Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

Secret of Mana - Way Better with a Good Group

Secret of Mana - Way Better with a Good Group

Let’s face it, exercising on a regular basis and eating healthy is a huge challenge. It’s constantly a struggle to stay in shape because it’s so much easier to take the day off, eat whatever is put in front of you, and sit on the couch instead.  This is doubly true if you’re just starting out, because you haven’t had a chance to get good habits in place yet (I’ve heard it takes around 28 days for a new habit to form).  What’s worse is if you’re out of shape, you’re probably surrounded by people who are making less healthy choices than you when it comes to a good lifestyle.  That’s just how it works; if everybody ate healthy and exercised, then we wouldn’t be in this mess (2/3rds of the country being overweight, and 1/2 of those people being obese.  Yikes.)

Working out by yourself is tough because there’s nobody to hold you accountable.  It’s even more difficult if you’re surrounded by people who aren’t positive influences, constantly telling you to skip your routine to play Halo, go the the bar instead of going to the gym, or even making fun of you for eating healthily.  If you’re in this situation, I’m not going to tell you to change friends – you hang out with them for a reason.  Just always remember: you’re the one who will be in shape.  You’re the one that will live longer, avoid so many more health risks, you’re the one that will look better and feel better.  Let them make their comments – stay strong inside, and then make fun of them for being out of shape when they can’t walk up a flight of stairs.

Now, imagine a reverse situation. You’ve decided to get in shape, and you’ve told all of your friends and co-workers.  When you go to the gym, they ask you how it went when you came back.  When you come home from the grocery store without any Oreos they don’t get mad at you.  They understand when you have to take 2 hours off from playing World of Warcraft to go to the gym.  They help you prepare food that is good for you.  If it’s their birthday in the office, they don’t get mad when you don’t eat their cake.

Which scenario is going to foster more growth and success?

Tell yourself every day that you’re going down the right path, don’t listen to the haters, and you’ll get it done.  Anybody who has played any sort of co-op game knows: having guys on your team that just insult each other can have a negative effect, but playing with a lot of positive people who challenge you to get better can make the experience more enjoyable and more successful.

Form a good group around you, and you’re only going to get better.


Made a big change in your weight and want to keep it that way?

You think this guy gave up after losing the weight? Hell no!

You think this guy gave up after losing the weight? Hell no!

I grabbed dinner last night with Mike Rickett, an amazing personal trainer from Colorado who has become my mentor since teaching my personal training certification course.  I even wrote an article about him being my Yoda.  Anyways, I was discussing my current fitness plan to get to 185 pounds by June 1st.  I’m a week and a half of schedule already, so  I asked him what what to do if I get to 185 before that deadline, should I continue to try and gain weight, start to cut the weight, or maintain.

Mike made an excellent point, and something that I have spent all night considering.  Your weight can fluctuate a great deal in a 30 day span (see my 18 lbs gained in only 30 days a few years back), but if you give up on that routine too quickly after the change, your weight will go RIGHT back to where it was.  This is because your weight might change, but it will take the rest of your body six months to get caught up.  Your skeleton needs to adjust, your arteries, metabolism, heart, lungs, and every vital organ needs to get used to this new “you,” and it’s not an overnight process.  Think of it like this: your body is a skeptical s.o.b., and it will take six months for it to finally believe you’re staying at this new weight before it changes.

This is why you often see people who drop a lot of weight get very quickly end up right back where they started just as fast – they gave up their routine after finding “success” and their bodies hadn’t adjusted yet making it easy for the body return to the “norm.”  And by “norm,” I just mean what your body is used to…which could be 100 pounds overweight.

I looked back at my fitness routines over the past three years and realized I had been every time I’d successful gain muscle mass I’d lose it all due to travel for work, getting sick, or cheating on my diet.  I’d gain 10 pounds, get excited, and then slack and I’d drop right back to where I was because my body hadn’t adjusted yet.

Once I hit my goal weight, I have to reconfigure my workout plan and diet; it doesn’t mean I’m going to stick with the same weights and diet for six months.  It means I’m going to keep an eye on my weight more closely, and adjust my routines accordingly.  If I start to put on more weight, I’ll cut some calories and increase my cardio exercise.  If my weight starts to drop, I’ll aim for heavier weights, longer rests between workout days, and increase the power of resistance on my cardio (while maintaining time).  It’s a balancing act that I never realized I needed to play, but I’m ready for it.  185 lbs for me has been a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for four years, and I’m going to get there.

If you’re planning on changing your weight, make sure to keep pushing even after you’ve hit that landmark or you could go right back to where you were.  Winston Churchill once said, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Think of your battle with fitness as a war.  You can’t surrender, you have to keep pushing, you have to win.

Get there.


Joe tries Muay Thai – hilarity ensues.

Earlier this week, I wrote about staying motivated and bringing intensity to the gym each and every day.

A reader of Nerd Fitness (shout out to Evan) commented about staying motivated by mixing things up with Muay Thai boxing to stay in shape.  I’ve been chatting with my friend Joe (a programmer for Radiant Systems, former top-ranked player in the world on Xbox Live in Halo 2, and one of the strongest mofo’s I know) about trying our hand at some martial arts to stay motivated ourselves.  Well, what do you know – Joe managed to find a MMA training center, complete with Muay Thai boxing, right down the street from where he lives!  He went and checked it out today…this is how it went:

This dude will end you.

This dude will end you.

Joe: I’ve always been interested in martial arts, but as a youngin’ my parents would never let me do anything like that, so all I could do was drool over Kung Fu movies and The Matrix action scenes. Me and Steve were talking the other day and he got me pumped up about actually doing something about it. So that, plus wanting to get some more entertaining cardio and stress relief into my schedule, I’ve decided to try my hand at learning Muay Thai.

This martial art revolves around pounding people to a pulp with your fists, elbows, knees, and feet — NICE, where do I sign up!? I checked out some gyms in the Atlanta area and found one close to me that offered some beginner classes. So after work today I headed to that gym and got set up a free learner session. After outfitting me with some hand wraps and boxing gloves, the main instructor lead me over to their training area and tells me to start jumping rope. After 5 minutes of exhausting myself doing that (yea I’m outta shape with the cardio) we threw on the gloves and started some basic punches. I learned quickly that no matter which hand I’m throwing, I have to use the other one to block the other side of my head. There are so many youtube videos of guys getting roundhouse kicked to the opposite side of the head after a failed punch, so it’s a good lesson to learn. It was pretty thrilling though to start beating up a bag doing some combo punches they showed us, but WOW you get exhausted fast — and I was just doing the warm up.

After this initial lesson we got thrown into the boxing ring with a partner. One of us would perform the same punch combos we just learned on the other, who was holding blocking bads. I was first to throw punches, and man it was fun to slam punches into this kid, knocking him back.. but I tired so quickly I had to restrain myself and work on form and just getting through the damn exercise first! Just holding your arms up and thrusting them really takes a lot out of you, and when you add 2 lb gloves your deltoids start to screaaam. So after beating the crap out of this kid for 10 minutes (and doing some super-fast cardio punch drills) it was my turn to hold the pads. I thought this would be the ‘easy’ portion of the exercise, but oh no. These pads weigh a good bit more (and for good reason) and holding them up is an endurance test all its own. Well, me and the other dude survived the punching drills and got to take a well needed 30 second break :ugh:.

The kicking portion was now underway (oh boy) and the instructor showed us how to pivot on your foot and bring your hips over and around to really pack a whallop. Best thing in this drill was to remember to try to kick THROUGH the person, like you were chopping them in half. Well my partner was used to some other style of kick, and was having trouble getting the technique down. I was holding the pads when the instructor came over and sized up to me to show him the technique. He looks at me and does a slow motion kick up to the pads to show the proper form to both of us. Then this guy just performs this epic move in what I can only describe as a Bruce Lee leg-explosion, almost levelling me from hitting the pads so hard. I’m pretty sure it would’ve killed me had the pads not been there. Then just for fun the instructor decides to roundhouse the living bajessus out of the pads twice more. I think he wanted to show me that just because I was bigger than him didn’t mean I could beat him up. A very humbling lesson indeed! After absorbing some much more powerful kicks it became my turn. Let me tell you: There’s nothing more satisfying in a gym than lining up and getting to kick some poor random person. And then repeating it over and over :D. Granted, I tired after like 10 kicks and would’ve lost any fight after that, but it really goes to show the amount of training and endurance that these athletes have.

After making me do high kicks until my legs and abs were gonna cramp and and die the drill was finally over. Now I can finally get some water and rest and relax — errr, nope. First had to do 5 sets of 10 pushups, 10 crunches, and 10 standing squats with no break. Then do 3 minutes of planks. Then do mountain climbers. Then collapse in a pool of your own sweat, tears, and probably some other people’s too. Then the instructors had the nerve to INVITE ME BACK. WHAT!? And I thought we had outlawed torture in this country :D. I will say it was the best workout I’ve had in years, and will hopefully continue the training — as soon as my body recovers. If any of you are looking for a ridiculous workout and a total body endurance makeover, I suggest you try out one of these programs. I definitely got my ass kicked today, but if I stick with it, I’ll one day turn that equation around.


Want to Lose Weight? Don’t Get Caught Up in the Numbers

Don't get caught up in the numbers AH AH AH

Don't get caught up in the numbers AH AH AH

So you’re going to lose weight. You’ve managed to follow your exercise routine for the whole week, you ate right, and then you stepped on the scale and it didn’t change.  WTF mate?!  Your natural reaction is to get bummed out and probably go sulk in the corner.  Now, let’s say you push through to the next week and realize you’ve suddenly lost 7 pounds!  You get all giddy and decide to celebrate by eating an entire birthday cake.  That…was…an overreaction.

This happens all too often to people at the gym, and I’ve definitely been guilty of agonizing over pounds gained/lost on a daily basis.  It’s not healthy, it’s not productive, and it’s only going to cause you unnecessary stress.   You gotta think long term people!  Don’t ride the roller coaster. If you’ve set a goal weight for 8 weeks from now, monitor your progress daily, but don’t beat yourself up over the numbers until the end.  Our bodies are complex pieces of machinery – there are so many moving parts, so many things coming in and going out all the time, and so many processes taking place that your weight can fluctuate like crazy in the short term.

What you CAN do is evaluate how you feel and how strong you are compared to previous gym session.  Sure the scale might say you’ve only lost 1 pound, but are you breathing easier?  Can you lift more?  Can you run a mile faster than you did last week?  Then who cares what the scale says, you are on the right path.  If you’re gaining weight and not getting stronger, then maybe there are things that you need to analyze, like your diet or workout routine.

Your weight can vary big time if you weigh yourself in the morning vs. at night, before a workout vs. after, on Fridays vs. on Mondays, etc.  Hell, your weight could be way off simply because you ate a big lunch and chugged a gallon of water and haven’t been to the bathroom yet.  It happens, so take individual results with a grain of salt.  If you overreact and try to overdo your diet, you might end up doing more harm than good. If you want to track your weight properly, here’s what you can do:

  • Weigh yourself every day at the SAME TIME. First thing in the morning is usually a good idea, because it’s before you’ve had a chance to eat food all day.
  • Weigh yourself many times and take an average.
  • Use a GOOD scale. The 10 dollar one from Walmart probably isn’t gonna cut it.
  • Use the same scale every time.  Your bathroom scale might be way off compared to the one in the gym locker room.
  • Keep track of trends. Maybe average your weight on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and compare it to the average the week before for those same days (assuming you weigh in at the same time for every day).

Don’t get bent out of shape if your scale today doesn’t agree with you. Conversely, don’t get too excited if you’re suddenly down four pounds today, because it could just as easily change in the other direction tomorrow.  Keep an even head, and recognize that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  If you get too invested in the numbers day-to-day, you could be screwing with your long-term results.

Stick with your plan regardless of what that scale said today.  Two months from now, if you keep doing what you’re doing then you’ll eventually realize your weight is just a number and is far less important than how you feel and look.  Muscle weighs more than fat anyways, which means you’ve probably lost more fat than the scale suggests.

As Frank the Tank says, “We can’t have anyone freak out out there ok? We’ve gotta keep our composure! We’ve come too far!  There’s too much to loose!! We gotta just KEEP OUR COMPOSURE!!!”  ::throws chair::


Intensity – How to Make the Most of your Time in the Gym

Don't even think about half-assing it sucka

Don't even think about half-assing it sucka

I just got back from the gym soaking wet, wobbly, exhausted, beat up, and exhilarated.  That was a damn good 45 minutes.  I’ve come to realize a few things after spending years working out and watching 95% of the population “working out.”

You need to practice how you want to play. You know why somebody has a heart attack?  Because their heart isn’t strong enough to handle the rigorous activity that that it’s being put through, whether it be stress or activity related.  Your heart is a muscle you should be training every day.  If you never move your heart out of its comfort zone (never increasing your heart rate considerably, training it to come back down quickly), then the first time it deals with an increased rate could be in those high-stress situations and bring on that heart attack.  Suck. However, if you are working on a daily basis to exercise your heart, then you’ll be in a much better position to handle situations of high stress – your heart will say “hey, I’ve been here before. Ain’t no thang. (this is assuming that your heart speaks Ebonics).”  I’m not saying you need to go from a couch potato to training like an Olympic sprinter, but you need to challenge yourself every single day to step a little bit more outside of your comfort zone.  Push a little farther, a little faster, a little stronger each time (Cue Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”).

If you are looking to build muscle size and strength, walking into a gym and doing a few lazy sets on a bench press and leg press will not get you results.  Your gains in size and strength will come with the last few reps of an exercise, when your muscles are shaking and you’re struggling to lift the weight for the last time.  You’ll get the best results when you’re sweating like crazy and your muscles are on the verge of failure.  It’s that last rep that you didn’t think you could do, that you’re struggling with, that will produce the results….which is just one more reason why you should be working somebody yelling encouragement and spotting you.

If you’re not sweating, you’re probably not working hard enough.

If you’re going to devote between 45 minutes and an hour in the gym, why not make that time as productive as possible?  The amount of time won’t change; either way it’s 45 minutes away from your house, your family, your kids, whatever.  Why not pack as much stuff into those 45 minutes as possible?  The way I see it, you’d be an idiot not to bust your ass in there. Gerard Butler (who plays King Leonidas in 300) told Men’s Health: “You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you’ve pumped — the history of that is all in your eyes.  That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, shit, I should have trained more. Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion.

That’s how I want to feel every single time I get out of that gym, because I know there’s nothing more I could have done.  Wasted opportunity, wasted talent, and wasted time are three things I can’t stand.  Give it your all every single day, and you will be a better person because of it.  You’ll get better results, have more confidence, feel more productive, have more energy, and probably live much longer too.  All good things!


The Correct Number of Reps Per Set in the Gym

I have a lot of people ask me, “How many reps should I do per set?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question without a little more information.  What you need to determine first is what your goals are.  Some people’s goals are to lose weight, which would require a certain rep range, and others’ goals are to build muscle mass, which requires a different range as well.

What you need to figure out is what you really want to accomplish.  Think about sprinters versus marathon runners.  A sprinter is built for power and speed in short bursts, so their training sessions exist in small increments (10 second races).  A marathon runner is built for endurance, which means their training sessions are much longer (hours at a time).  Working out is no different.  Decide below what you want to get out of a workout, and then read how to get there:

  • Muscular endurance – Your sets should be greater than 12 repetitions.  Aim for a range from 12 to 20 reps.  Obviously you won’t be able to lift heavy amounts of weight for 20 reps, so you’ll be lifting lighter loads.  Also, because you’re going for endurance, you want to decrease the amount of rest between sets.  30 Seconds to a minute, but certainly no more.
  • Muscle Size (Hypertrophy) – This is for you guys looking to build muscle size (hardgainers).  Hypertrophy is essentially the enlarging of cells, which means when it happens to your muscles, they get bigger! Yay.  Now, if this is what you’re looking to accomplish, you want to keep the number of reps per set in the 6 – 12 range.  I find this is best accomplished by doing between 3-5 sets, each time increasing the weight and decreasing the reps. (12 reps at 200 lbs, 10 reps at 220 lbs, 8 reps at 240 lbs, etc.)  Rest time between sets should be short, not as short as for endurance…between 60 and 90 seconds.  I wait 1 minute between sets.
  • Strength and Power – If you’re happy with your size, or you’re training for specific sports and just want to get stronger with more power, this is for you.  Your reps are going to be less than 6 with each set, and an increased amount of time waiting between sets (2-3 minutes).  You’re going to be lifting crazy amounts of weight for sometimes just 1 repetition, so you need to have a spotter and absolutely perfect form or you could severely hurt yourself.   This is how powerlifters train.  Low reps, high weight, long time between sets.

So, now that you have “edumacated” yourself on how your specific goals influence the number of reps per set, you can design your program around this info.  Remember in my article last week talking about plateaus and how your muscles can get “used” to working out and slow down growth?  If that’s something you’re battling, here’s a way to keep them guessing.  Spend a week in a different rep range with different amounts of weight to throw them off.  Generally doing the 12-10-8-6 reps per set routine?  Bump up the weight and do sets of 6-3-1, waiting much longer between sets (and using a spotter).  After a week of mixing it up, go back to your regularly scheduled routine and you’ll be right back on track.

Make sure you know what you want, and then design a plan to get there.


Keep the Ball Rolling!

I recently took a personality test that told me I’m a “green-line quick start,” which means I”m easily excited and great with coming up with ideas…and terrible with following through with them.  I often come up with new ideas that excite me more than the ones I’m currently working on, so I’ll just leave the process just half-done.  You should see me play the piano – I know the first 4 lines to probably 50 songs and only two or three songs all the way through.  As I stated in a previous blog about motivation, the reason that gets you started exercising might not be the same thing that keeps you exercising, and I’m hitting that point in my new routine right now.

Before I started this fitness blog, I started probably three blogs that quickly faded out after a few weeks.  The fact that I’ve written in this blog nearly every weekday for the past three months is a surprise even to myself.  I think one of the main reasons that I’ve stuck with it is because this is something I truly feel passionate about, and I’m so excited to impact people’s lives and make this world a better place.  I realize there are probably millions of blogs about fitness.  I’m not only writing this blog for you guys, but for myself as well.  It’s easier to give up when you’re the only one accountable.  However, when I know that over 1000 unique visitors have read this blog in the past 30 days, I need to make sure I practice what I preach.  Why would you guys listen to me if I’m skipping my routine or diet every time I’m too tired or lazy?   That’s crap, and you deserve better.

This week, I spent three days up in Augusta, GA for a company retreat.  Even though the house was filled with co-workers who don’t share my passion with fitness, I made sure I did everything in my power to stay on the right track.  I even brought a small blender and a Tupperware container full of my meal replacement powder so I could make sure I was getting enough calories, carbs, and protein every day.  I got a few funny looks from the other people in the house when I set up my blender a few times a day, but it didn’t bother me.  I made a promise to myself, to this blog, and to you guys to stay consistent with my fitness routine and my diet, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

It’s Friday morning, and I’m exhausted. If you’ve seen the latest New Balance ad campaign, running is compared to a love/hate relationship; there are always warm comfy sheets begging you to go back to sleep instead of getting up and running.  I’m the same way with lifting weights.  Every morning I know all it takes is one extra “maybe just today” and my head will hit that pillow faster than Rosie O’Donnell hits a Chinese buffet line.

If it was just for me, I’d probably consider skipping today’s workout.  However, as soon as I post this article I’ll be heading to the gym because I don’t want to let down this site or the people that read it.  If you’re exercising and having trouble staying motivated, find a way to make yourself accountable.  Tell your friend Rambo that you’ll pay him five dollars for every workout you skip.  I have some great ideas for Nerd Fitness 2.0 and how we’ll all be able to help keep each other motivated.  This should all happen by the end of the summer, but I’m hoping I can get it going much sooner than that.

I now have all the motivation I need.  See you in the gym.


Why Cheating on Your Diet Could Backfire


Those diet pills are tricks...I mean illusions!

Everybody makes the decision two weeks before Spring Break (GOB’s favorite holiday on Arrested Development) to lose 20 pounds or they get gym memberships on January 1st and expect to drop three pant sizes in a week. Society, commercials, magazines, and every diet product you’ve ever seen tells you how quickly you can lose insane amounts of weight!  Just buy their product and it’ll happen!  Yippee!

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it can’t happen quickly. Why?  Because your body won’t let you.  If you go way back to our days as cavemen, food wasn’t always as abundant as it is today (which would explain two thirds of the country being overweight).  Back then food might show up one day and be gone the next.  Because of this uncertainty, our bodies are conditioned to store and save as many of the nutrients from everything we eat in times of starvation.  Now, our metabolism doesn’t have eyes and we can’t tell it that we’re dieting so when food gets scarce (when you try to drastically cut your calorie intake) it goes into starvation mode [cue evil music].

What is starvation mode, you ask? Your body/metabolism knows that it can get away with a certain amount of weight loss per week (about 1% of your body weight).  If you drop big weight early and really cut caloric intake, your stomach thinks there’s a scarcity of food and you’re in starvation mode.  Because of that, our body will hold onto every meal like it’s the last meal for a while…which sucks for two reasons:

  • You’ll stop losing weight or lose it very slowly…very frustrating.
  • Two, your metabolism will slow down big time.  When you start to eat normally again, it will take a while for your metabolism to go back to normal, so it will hold onto more of that food than before and you’ll actually gain weight. Fail.

Remember this: if you try to kick-start a diet by starving yourself, it will work for maybe a week or two, but then the weight loss will come to a screeching halt and you’ll gain back everything you lost when you go back to eating normally.  Your other option is to chop off one of your legs.  There’s 50 pounds right there.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t expect to lose 50lbs in a month.  Be smart in your decisions, set realistic goals, and take it one day at a time.


Muscle Confusion, p90x, and Plateaus – The Truth

You’ve all seen the infomercial for p90x, the new training program that’s taking the country by storm!  With a bunch of DVDs, food charts, and a special patented “muscle confusion” (ooooooooh) program, they’ll get you insane results in only three months and 3 payments of $39.95 (plus 20 bucks for shipping, jeez)!  The main selling point for this program is the “muscle confusion,” so I want to break it down to normal people terms to explain what you’re actually getting.  I won’t even charge you 140 bucks for the info!

As you lift weights and do exercises, your muscles are broken down, and then rebuilt over the next few days. If you continue to do the same exercises on a consistent basis your muscles will get used to the cycle of breaking down the same way and rebuilding the same way, and they’ll actually adapt to get less affected, which will in turn give you less results for the same amount of work.  If you’re an Econ guy, think of this as diminishing returns.  You’ve probably heard this referred to as a ‘plateau.’  Not good.

In order to fix that, you need to “confuse” your muscles constantly (see what I’m getting at here?) in order to keep them guessing and never give them the opportunity to adapt.  If your muscles are constantly guessing and getting hit from different angles, with different exercises or a  different number of sets or reps, then they can never get comfortable and you won’t hit that dreaded “plateau” of decreased gains.  The head trainer for the people on the set of 300 said that the actors never did the same workout twice.

Keep this in mind next time you think about doing the bench press in the gym for the millionth time in a row.  Mix it up! Try incline bench presses with dumbbells, or do some dumbbell flys, or stick with the bench and switch your grip from narrow to wide or vice-versa.  Usually do three sets?  Try five!  12 reps per set?  Up the weight and drop the number of reps down to 6.  Not only will this ‘confuse’ your muscles, but it will also keep you from getting bored in the gym.  If you’re bored, you’ll dread the gym and probably not give your all.  Challenge yourself to come up with new ways to work your muscles, and you’ll see better results.

New to the gym and need some more exercises? Find one of the trainers in the gym and just ask him what other exercise they’d recommend to mix it up for your ____________(chest, legs, back, etc.).  Be careful if you’re going to ask another guy working out, because they might not know what they’re doing.  Every day I’m in the gym I probably see 10 people who are doing exercises incorrectly.

Lastly, be realistic in what you’ll get out of this program.  If you want to look like the guys on the infomercial, you’re going to need a gym membership and fully dedicate yourself for far longer than 12 weeks.  Set realistic goals and stick with it, and you’ll get there.


Baby Steps – Build on Small Successes to get Healthy

Baby Steps to the door...

Baby Steps to the door...

You’ve seen “What about Bob,” right?  Bob gets freaked out about thinking too many steps ahead and overreacts to just about everything.  His doctor teaches him to think of his life in baby steps to stay focused and successful.  And by successful, I mean “walking out of a room” and “opening a car door.”  Fitness is no different, especially if you’re just starting out.  Once you make the decision to be healthy, it can often get pretty overwhelming.  You need to be like Bob: take everything one day at a time, one change at a time.

Being healthy isn’t just “going to the gym three times a week.”  It requires a full time commitment and decision to change your life.  Now if you’re thinking “aw crap I need to empty my fridge, go buy spandex and spend five days in the gym, screw this I’m gonna play Halo…” I wouldn’t blame you; that would scare the crap out of me too.  However, it doesn’t need to be so drastic and so sudden.  BABY STEPS!  You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.  It’s like playing through the tutorial level in video games.  Yeah it sucks, it’s probably boring, but if you skip it you might miss some key things that will help you get through the rest of the game.

If you haven’t worked out a day in your life, then maybe signing up for Jazzercise classes five days a week isn’t the right idea.  Try two days a week, and take it easy.  Trust me, it’s much better to walk out of the gym saying “that was successful, I can’t wait to get back here.” instead of “wow that sucked, I’m never doing it again! EVER!”  Take it slow, take it one day at a time, and build on each day of success until you find your rhythm.

  • Want to start running? Go for half a mile the first day instead of signing up for the Boston Marathon.  The last thing you want is to go too far, and then spend the next four days with sore legs as you walk around your office like a penguin.
  • Want to buy a gym membership? Why not hold off for a few weeks and do body weight exercises in your house first?  Push ups, lunges, squats, pull ups on the neighbor’s swing set, etc.  You can get a lot done without paying for it.
  • Gonna join an ultimate frisbee league? Go out to the park a three weeks early, a few nights a week, and start running around and tossing the disc.  You have to get into game shape before you officially step on the field?  Just like you have to learn to crawl before you walk, you have to learn to walk before you can run.

As for your diet, which accounts for probably 80% of your success when it comes to being healthy, go with baby steps too.  Don’t empty your fridge, don’t give up everything you love to eat…take it one change at a time.  It’s really not that bad, plus it will add years to your life.

  • The first change you absolutely need to make is START EATING BREAKFAST.  This one is non-negotiable – read why here.
  • If you eat white bread, next week change it to wheat.  Within two weeks you won’t even notice the difference.
  • If you eat steak and cheese subs five days a week…switch to a grilled chicken sandwich instead a few times a week.  Do the research on what you like to eat that is good for you, and start to make the transition.
  • If you drink five Mountain Dews every day, switch to water and only drink soda on the weekend (if you’re drinking it because you need all that caffeine every day…you’re probably addicted and should ween yourself off it anyways).
  • Get a bag of Doritos every day at the vending machine? Save the money and bring in your own healthy snack.

Human beings are creatures of habit.  You’re far more likely to change one habit at a time and stick with it than trying to change 76 habits simultaneously.  Make a few changes at a time, and concentrate on sticking with them.  After you’ve made one positive change and stuck with it, use the success and momentum from that to stay, “hey look what I did!” and keep the ball rollin’.  Feel free to call your mom and tell her, because she’ll probably be proud.

Remember, 500 less calories per day (either with exercise, change in diet, or a combination of the two) equals a loss of one pound of body fat per week. Little changes can add up quickly, so just stick with it!


Efficient Muscle Building Workout in 45 Minutes – Not for Newbies

Yesterday you read about the four big muscle groups you should exercise.  Today I’m writing about my current routine that follows the same principle.  By doing exercises that target those four muscles, I work practically every muscle in my body.  Now, I’ll work all four muscle groups three times a week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – but I’ll do different exercises for each muscle group to keep things fresh and not over-exhaust myself.  I’ll go very heavy on Mondays, light on Wednesdays, and medium on Fridays.

If you’re looking to build size, you really want to keep the number of reps between 12 and 6, and the number of sets between 3 and 6. Any less than 6 will build power and strength (not as much size) while more than 12 will develop muscular endurance and not size.  I’m also not a fan of doing cardio, so I like to build my cardio into my workouts by having short rests in between sets.  I walk out of the gym in 45 minutes sweating like a pig and exhausted.

After a quick 5-10 minute warm-up on the treadmill – necessary to warm-up your muscles and stretch out – I’ll start with the weights.

Here is a sample chest exercise (incline dumbbell press):

  • 55lb dumbells for 12 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 60lb dumbbells for 10 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 65lb dumbbells for 8 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 70lb dumbbells for 6 reps – you should be close to failing at the end of this set.
  • wait 1 miute
  • 55lb dumbells for 12 reps – expect to struggle with this set – that’s the plan!
  • Immediately do a set of another chest exercise for 12 reps (lighter weight) like dumbbell flys – PERFECT FORM!

If you’re used to waiting 3 minutes in between sets, you might get discouraged because you’ll be able to lift left weight than normal.  However, I guarantee by the time you’re doing the last set of 12 reps your muscles will burn and you’ll feel like you want to hurl.  IMPORTANT:  The amount of weight you’re doing isn’t important: make sure you keep proper form for EACH rep, don’t use momentum to lift the weights, and use a spotter at all times!

After this I’d move into a back exercise like wide grip pull ups:

  • 12 pull ups with just body weight
  • wait one minute
  • 10 pull ups with 5lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 8 pull ups with 10lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 6 pull ups with 15lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 12 pull ups with just body weight
  • Immediately do one set of 12 of another back exercise, like cable rows.

If you can’t do pull ups yet, do lateral pull downs instead, or assisted pull ups like shown in this Evolution of Pull Ups Video.

After this, I’ll follow the same number of sets and reps for Squats, and then the same number of sets and reps for Straight Leg Dead lifts.  If you’re a newbie, you can stop after the 3rd set.  After a few weeks, add the fourth set.  A few weeks after that, add the 5th set.  Don’t try to do too much too soon if you’re just starting out or you could seriously hurt yourself.  Baby steps!

When I finish with these four exercises (which generally takes about 40 minutes), I’ll do some floor swipes or ball crunches to work my abs.  By the time I finish this workout, I pretty much want to die. It’s over in a matter of 45 minutes, and I feel freaking amazing afterward.  Think of the last crappy television show you watched.  There’s 45 minutes right there.

Another important thing to note is that you should stretch out AFTER you workout. Think about it, you just destroyed all of your muscles, so they’re all tight and contracted.  When you stretch them out, you’ll regain flexibility, and open them up so when you eat protein more of it will be spread out throughout the muscle and you’ll grow bigger quicker.

Now, because I’m absolutely destroying myself with these exercises on Mondays, I want to give my muscles a few days to recover.  On Wednesday, I might do lighter weights for different exercises (example: chest: dips, back: seated cable row, quads: lunges, hamstrings: leg curls).  Every other day I’ll do an exercise for each muscle group, but I’ll mix up the exercise so I’m hitting the muscles from different angles and keeping them guessing, which will promote more growth and less “plateauing” (when your body gets stuck on a certain weight because it’s bored).  If I work out really hard Monday, I might spend Wednesday with really light weights just stretching out each of the muscles.

This is the routine I’ll be following for the next 4 weeks, then I’ll reevaluate and see where I’m at and what I want to mix up.


Keep It Simple, Stupid! Get Results with Only 4 Exercises

As stated in yesterday’s blog, I’ve just set up my new goals and fitness plans for the next 8 weeks.  My personal trainer certification instructor and mentor Mike Rickett passed along some great advice to me for both my new routine and routines I develop for my clients: “keep it simple, stupid!”

My new routine is deceptively simple and requires only about 2.5-3 hours TOTAL per week in the gym.  Instead of concentrating on each and every little tiny muscle and hitting it from 8 different angles, I’m doing full body workouts that use as many muscles as possible at once.  Why spend more time in there if you don’t have to?  Efficiency people, efficiency!

I target four muscle groups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday…the same four muscle groups that you need to work out whether you’re trying to bulk up or cut off the fat.  If you want to gain weight, you want exercises that use as many muscles as possible so when you rebuild you’ll rebuild more muscles and gett bigger!  If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to do exercises that will target the most fat on your body and stimulate as many of the muscles underneath as you can.

Chest – Most exercises that work your entire chest will also your shoulders and your triceps.  This is a good thing.  Exercises done with dumbbells will recruit even more muscles to help stabilize your arms as you raise them up and down.  I start out my routine with a chest exercise; it can be regular bench press, dumbbell flys, incline dumbbell press, decline bench press, cable crossover, etc. Later on in the week I’ll go into more detail on these exercises, but I make sure to work my chest while also working my shoulders and triceps.  Currently rocking some killer man boobs?  Get rid of that fat by doing exercises that work your entire chest to burn the most fat on top of them.

Back – Your back is a big collection of a bunch of muscles.  I love doing back exercises because a lot of other people hate them.  My favorite exercise is probably wide grip pull ups for a number of reasons:

  1. Pull ups make you feel like a bad ass.
  2. Rocky does them in a training montage in Rocky IV, maybe the greatest cinematic masterpiece in the history of the world.
  3. A majority of the activities on Ninja Warrior require INCREDIBLE back and bicep strength, so I figure might as well train in case they call and say they need me.
  4. They’re freaking tough, and work every damn muscle in your back, biceps, and forearms.

Now, when you do pull ups (and any variation on them – wide grip, narrow grip, underhand, overhand, assisted, etc.) you’ll be using practically every muscle in your back along with your biceps.  Two for one!

Quads – Squats. Do them.  I avoided squats for years because I thought they were messing up my back.  Wrong.  The reason the Squats hurt were because I was both doing them wrong and I had very poor lower back strength.  Squats work almost every freaking muscle in your body, which is why you need to be doing them.  I love watching people in the gym doing “squats” and they go down about two inches and then stand back up.  If you’re doing legitimate squats, your thighs should be parallel to the floor at the bottom, which won’t mess up your knees if you keep your butt way back, your back strong, and don’t extend your knees out over the front of your feet.  Some other great quad exercises include lunges (boy I hate lunges) and one legged squats.

Hamstrings – Dead lifts – Another exercise I avoided because of my back when I finally realized that I needed to be doing them to build up my lower strength and really see some gains in size.  If you do this exercise properly, you’ll see great gains in strength and size in your back and legs, because it works both of them.  Also, by the time you’re lifting heavy weights, you’ll be recruiting your shoulders and arms to just hold onto the weight as you raise it and lower it!  Now there are all kinds of variations on this that will work those hammies: Romanian dead lifts, straight leg dead lifts, one legged dead lifts, leg curls, etc.

That’s it.  Simple enough, right?  Instead of spending two hours a day doing eight exercises per muscle group, why not shock the hell out of each of them every time you get in the gym…and get it done in far less time.  You might think it’s crazy to hit each of these muscle groups three times a week.  Check back tomorrow for my current routine to show you how I use these principles to develop a routine that will promote muscle growth and get some cardio in there as well without over-exhausting my muscles.


Interview with Chris McNeil, the Creator of FitMenu!

Chris McNeil

Chris McNeil

In the past few months of writing this blog, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some pretty interesting people both in the field of fitness and technology.  Chris McNeil, founder and creator of Pensarc, is one such individual.  A member of the fitness community for over 25 years, Chris has been constantly at the forefront of developing new techniques to help people stay in shape through creative software.  Chris was nice enough to answer some questions about his background, his love of merging technology and fitness, and his current projects that will soon make things easier for everybody throughout the country to get healthy!

Hey Chris, let’s talk about your work on merging fitness with technology.  You work for Pensarc. is this YOUR company, or a company you work for?  Why the focus on fitness related websites?

I am the founder of Pensarc. I owned a chain of personal training studios for 9 years prior to that. While I owned the studios, I found myself getting more and more focused on developing web-based software to help the clients get fit faster,  to manage the business more effectively, and to market fitness better. Two of the products, “FitPoint” (an online fitness scoring system that tracks results and turns them into a competitive game) and the “Wireless Workout” (handheld computers on a wireless network that replaced clipboards with a web-based workout tracking system) won the Nova 7 award for innovation in new technologies in fitness, which got them national recognition.  That recognition facilitated my move to starting Pensarc to further develop and market the online fitness products.

Where did you come up with the idea for

FitMenuI am a strong believer in symbiotic businesses marketing together. FitMenu is a platform for just that.  Health related businesses sponsor restaurants and benefit from the positive exposure gained by the association. It also makes the benefits to the restaurant free to them, so restaurants are very willing to join the program when it’s that easy. Each sponsored restaurant gets 3 healthy menu items analyzed  and listed in the searchable database.  They also benefit from the promotions and materials supplied by the sponsor to promote healthy eating at their establishments. And, of course, the person who benefits the most is the health-minded diner. People can continue to lose weight,  stay fit, and feel great while enjoying eating out as much as they want to.

What are your goals when it comes to  Where is it currently available?

My goal is for FitMenu to be in 100 U.S. cities by the end of the year. FitMenu is currently in 4 cities in South Carolina. The program has been very successful there so it is going nationwide. With the web-based sponsor software that runs the program, we can support restaurants and sponsors anywhere there is internet. So, we are in the process of a nationwide rollout.  I think it will happen quickly because there is a lot of incentive to being the first FitMenu sponsor in your area. They get the pick of the restaurants to sponsor before their competitors get a chance.

Have you always been interested in fitness and getting healthy?  If it’s something you started doing for a certain reason, what was that reason?

I have been in some sort of fitness business for 25 years. I have been an owner of a fitness business for 20 years. I have a mission to empower the average person to have the enjoyment of a body that feels great because it can perform at high levels. When I was 19 years old and running fitness centers, I saw that the typical health club business model did not support the success of the average person. I sought to create new models that were more helpful to normal people wanting to get in great shape, which eventually became incorporated into my chain of fitness studios and now my online fitness applications.

You also mentioned you’re working on a new exciting website as well that’s launching soon, what can you tell us about it?

There are actually two main projects coming to fruition soon. One is a web-based operating system for personal training businesses. This will give a typical personal trainer a great sense of control over his or her business. I am doing this in partnership with Shane Doll of Shane Doll Fitness. Shane also owns Shaping Concepts ( Fitness Studios.  The other one is still secret, but if you follow me at you’ll learn about it first! 😉

Any advice to pass on to fellow technology lovers when it comes to staying healthy?

It doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming to achieve a lean, healthy body with a high level of fitness. The secret is to have good systems. One such system is that of exercise performance goal-setting. That means creating timelines of measurable progress in the key exercises you are doing. Another is cycling your training so that you emphasize different areas of fitness at different times. The FitPoint system I created automatically changes the program cycle for each user every three weeks. Three weeks is the “sweet spot” of how long to stay with a particular progam before you would start to plateau on it. Then, instead, you switch to something different.

In nutrition, I believe in managing your lifestyle instead of strict dieting. Start with your normal habits and shape in a healthier direction instead of following a rigid plan that doesn’t take you or your lifestyle into account. That way, you can stick with it and permanently create the lifestyle that supports the healthy body you want.

Chris McNeil is the founder of Pensarc Software Development. Chris has twice won the Nova 7 award for innovation in websites and new technology. His FitMenu program was recognized as an “Innovator 2008” by the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

Why I Work Out

Okay, so I realized that I said blog posts would resume yesterday, and I lied.  If you’ve been following my blogs over on the Sixthman website (my day job), you know that I just got off a cruise ship that really wore me down, and it took an extra day to recover.  I posted a new blog over there today so feel free to read.

Essentially, I spent 5 days on a cruise ship with John Mayer, Guster, O.A.R., twelve other bands, and 2900 music fans.  I slept probably three hours a night and walked off that ship feeling like a zombie.  Every time I tried to write for NF my brain simply said “NOPE!”  After a day on the couch and many hours of television, I’m ready to write.

I’ve put a lot of thought over the past few days into why I enjoy exercising.  I’m absolutely fascinated with the concept of efficiency and operating at the highest level possible.  If you decide to do something, you can either half-ass it or you can go all out.  When I started playing online poker years ago, I read probably a dozen books on poker and learned to remove emotion from my decision making.  If you can remove the “gut feelings” and “revenge” factor by playing like a well-oiled machine, you’ll be far more successful (and efficient) than a guy who flies by the seat of his pants.

I learned to play blackjack and craps the same way.  After a year of screwing around in a casino while on vacations and throwing my money away, I read books on both and learned the proper way to play.  Now I can teach anybody to play proper craps in 20 minutes.  I might even write a blog about it some day!

Nagano, 1 of 2 people to complete Ninja Warrior

Nagano, 1 of 2 people to complete Ninja Warrior

To me, exercising is no different. I am always amazed at guys who can compete at a level above and beyond anybody else (Example: Makoto Nagano – pictured to the left –  a fisherman from Japan who actually completed the Ninja Warrior challenge).  I realize most professional athletes are blessed with a great amount of innate ability, but it’s the gifted athletes who still wake up at 6AM in the gym pushing themselves to get better and better that grab my attention.  The guys that eat right, determine the best possible way to get in shape, and then attack it with consistency and motivation day-in, day out.

Make sure you know who you want to be.  I could care less about the body-builders on steroids or the guys who can look at a dumbbell and get ripped.  Those are rare cases that don’t showcase how truly dedicated everybody else needs to be to operate at that level.

I have so much more respect for the guys with slow metabolisms (or fast) who really have to work to stay in shape.  Being healthy is a challenge and should give you a sense of satisfaction because you know how hard you had to work to get there.  I have even more respect for the guys and girls who stay in shape while working full time jobs and raising a family.  There’s always a million excuses to skip the gym, especially when time is limited.  My heroes are the people who can overcome every excuse.

For those of you struggling to lose weight, I can definitely relate (but from the opposite end of the spectrum).  I am one of the fortunate few blessed with a ridiculously fast metabolism; this means that I can’t put on any kind of weight (whether it be muscle or fat).  As a skinny guy trying to build muscle, I have to find a way to eat insane amounts of healthy calories every single day (while exercising) in order to see any sort of progress, which requires a lot of money and time (buying more food, preparing more food, eating more food, cleaning up afterward).  I wish I could get away with eating 1500 calories a day, but that would get me nowhere.

I try to stick to this routine consistently, not because I want to impress people with how I look, but because I want to be the best damn person I can be.  That means being the best person at my job, best volunteer at the hospital, best personal trainer to my clients, and best athlete for the sport in which I’m competing.  If I’m playing the piano, I want to get better and better.  If it’s a competition, I want to be the best.  Just like the Xbox Live leaderboard, there are ways you can compare yourself to others, and ways to compete against yourself (improvement).  Complacency is dangerous.  Always strive to be better, and you will get better.

For those of you who play RPG’s, it’s like leveling up your character.  There’s always room for improvement, there’s always one more thing you can do.  To quote Gerard Butler, the actor who played King Leonidas in 300, “You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you’ve pumped — the history of that is all in your eyes.  That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, shit, I should have trained more. Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion.

I want to work out because I want to feel like that.  Why do you exercise?


How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 4

The fine print:  Ingredients list.

All the ingredients in food are listed in order of how much is contained by weight.  The first few ingredients make up most of the product.  It is useful to look at the ingredients list in certain situations:

If you are looking for a healthy whole-grain bread or cereal, make sure the first ingredient listed is “whole grain.”  Sometimes the name of a product may be misleading, but the ingredients list won’t lie!

Many packaged products contain a good deal of sugar.  If sugar (or one of its aliases, like high fructose corn syrup) is listed as the first or second ingredient, you may want to reconsider your food choice.  People with food allergies or sensitivities must read ingredients lists diligently to avoid trigger foods.

Let’s recap the basics:  Look at the serving size and calorie count.  Make sure you know how many calories you are putting into you body!

Check out the macronutrients.  Good things to see are:

  • High dietary fiber
  • Low saturated and trans fat (unsaturated fats are the healthy fats, but they are still high in calories)
  • Low sodium
  • Glance over the ingredients list.  The first 4-5 ingredients probably make up most of the product.

It’s your body!  Make sure you know what you are feeding it.


Again, all the credit in the world goes to my friend for taking the time to write out these blogs on nutrition, thanks Hales!  Tomorrow’s blog might not happen because I’m still on a ship sailing up the Mexican Coast to LA (The Mayercraft Carrier, read our blogs about THAT over here).  Things are crazy hectic and I might not get around to it.  Updates surely to resume Wednesday!

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