Six Months Ago I Recommitted to Fitness. Here’s What Happened…

Six months ago, I decided to re-dedicate myself to health and fitness.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Steve, you run a site called Nerd FITNESS, what do you need to rededicate yourself for? Were you not exercising this whole time?”

I’ve been working out pretty consistently since I was 17.  I’ve gone up and down 15 pounds over that time frame, depending on how hard I’ve been training, how much I’ve been traveling, how good my diet has been, etc.

Despite running a fitness site and telling other people how to exercise, the business side of Nerd Fitness was getting so busy that I was skipping (or cutting short) more and more workouts. Like anyone else, I was coming up with more and more excuses.

And, despite thinking I was in great shape, I really wasn’t.  

woke up one day in November (after Thanksgiving), looked in the mirror, and decided to make a change.

Starting January 1st, 2014, I re-dedicated myself to my health, both physically and mentally.  Since then, with the exception of my birthday last week, I have consistently exercised 3-4 days a week with heavy strength training, mobility work, and gymnastic movements.

Now, at the age of 30, I’m stronger and in better shape than ever.

Although my physical transformation isn’t as drastic as Joe or Saint, my mental transformation HAS been drastic: my fears about strength training (stemming from a spinal condition) have disappeared and I have more confidence than ever. I’ve become a better Rebel Leader as a result.

Here’s what happened.

The Start

Steve-0Back in November, I reached out to my friend Anthony.

He and I have very similar philosophies about strength training, health, and diet, and I was excited to discuss with him my hopes, fears, and goals for the next six months.  Although he lives in Pittsburgh, we would talk on Skype, exchange thoughts and philosophies, and try to put a plan in place.

We settled on a monthly program that combined my two favorite things: heavy strength training for the lower body (squats and deadlifts) along with mostly gymnastic holds and body weight exercises for my upper body (ring dips, overhead presses, handstands, muscle ups, front and back lever holds).

I told Anthony I was tired of feeling fragile – it seemed like at any point in the past I would make great progress and then pull a muscle, tweak a joint, or run into a travel issue and I’d get derailed for weeks and have to start all over again.

On top of that, I have a spinal condition where my vertebrae doesn’t line up properly, and I had this irrational fear of snapping myself in half.  I always felt like I was one bad movement away from crippling myself every time I walked into the gym.

There I was, sore, with no flexibility, a bum shoulder, and busted spine…and it was time to fix this scared mentality.

So, we set out to make me AntiFragile.

Months 1 and 2: Becoming AntiFragile

Push Up Flys

I started my training routine with two main goals: get stronger (strengthen my tendons and joints/increase my capacity for heavier workloads), and decrease body fat.

I was probably around 14-15% body fat (which you can calculate here), and my goal was to get down to 10%.  From there, we could then focus 100% on building muscle, instead of the usual “bulk way up and add lots of fat, and then cut and hope we don’t lose any muscle.”

In order to do that, we began my general strength training routine of 4 days per week.

My week would look something like this:

  • Sunday: Upper Body (Workout Day A) – overhead presses, pull-ups, handstands, ring work
  • Monday: Off
  • Tuesday: Lower Body (Workout Day B) – squats, romanian deadlifts, pistol squats, L-sits
  • Wednesday: Upper Body (Workout Day C) – weighted pull-ups, weighted dips, ring work
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Lower Body (Workout Day D) – deadlifts, front squats, one-leg deadlifts, L-sits
  • Saturday: Off

Along with that, he threw in a twist: I was also going to complete the PLP 60-day Challenge (which I wrote about extensively here).  This challenge required me to first complete 10 reps of Pull Ups, Push-ups, and Lunges on Day 1, then 11 reps of each on Day 2, then 12 reps on Day 3, etc…in ADDITION to the work out above.

At first I thought he was crazy – “I am soooo busy there is no way I’ll find a way to do PLP every day. I have a lot of travel coming up too!”

And then I shut my mouth, stopped making excuses, and took it as a personal challenge to see if I could complete the 60 days without fail.  I’m proud to say that I completed ALL workouts, and ALL PLP exercise days, without missing one, despite traveling a ridiculous amount.

As for my diet, I actually STOPPED counting calories, and stopped worrying about specifics. Instead, I followed a few key rules:

  • Work out in a fasted state (as explained in our article on Intermittent Fasting)
  • Eat more carbs on workout days (rice, sweet potatoes, whole milk, oats)
  • Eat more fat on rest days (almond butter, avocado, nuts, guacamole)
  • Always eat enough protein (lots of chicken and protein shake here and there)
  • Get enough sleep!

And that was it!  I removed the shackles of calorie counting, and instead just focused on eating real food, making adjustments based on the day, and then stopped stressing about it.

I finished my two months a new man – not just physically, but mentally. I no longer felt fragile, and the increased amount of exercise I was doing actually started to feel NORMAL.

I was starting to become anti-fragile, and I looked forward to the next phase.

Months 3-6: Slow and Steady

Steve 4After completing the PLP Challenge, a total of 2,440 pull ups, 2,440 push ups, and 2,440 lunges in addition to all of my other workouts, I was ready to take over the world.

This was the momentum I needed to solidify my re-dedication.

I was ready to start lifting more and more, doing more exercises, and trying new movements.  After having OFF days where I still did 70 pull ups, I was scared that going back to my 4-day a week routine would be WAY too easy.

I continued to deadlift and squat low amounts of weight and my increases came at a snail’s pace. For example, here is a month of deadlifting, each week:

  • Deadlift Week One: warm up sets, then 1×280 lbs
  • Deadlift Week Two: warm up sets, then 2×280 lbs
  • Deadlift Week Three: warm up sets, then 3×280 lbs
  • Deadlift Week Four: warm up sets, then 1×285 lbs

I was (and still am) adding just five pounds per month, even though I’ve felt like I could do more.  It’s been a lesson in patience that I had struggled to learn for my whole life, but it’s paying dividends. And with coming back after my spinal diagnosis, I wasn’t taking any chances.

I’m up to 3×310 lbs on the deadlift (a personal record), and it was a cakewalk!

In the past I couldn’t go more than six weeks before I pulled a muscle, tweaked a tendon, or messed up my shoulder.  I’ve since learned it’s because I grew impatient, and tried to do too much too soon. I’ve now gone six months without an issue.

Every time a new exercise has been introduced, it’s been introduced at an embarrassingly simple level.

Maybe it’s doing just a single rep of something, or adding a weight training exercise at a very low weight, or holding a particular hold for just two seconds.  It’s always humbling to start with just the bar, or holding something for just seconds..

Fun Facts

Steve Front Lever

I am feeling DAMN proud.  Thanks to my dedicated training over these six months, I’ve been able to accomplish the following:

  • New Personal Best on the deadlift
  • New Personal Best on the front squat
  • A strict muscle up
  • Fun gymnastic holds like tuck planches, L-sits, tuck front levers and back levers, and more.
  • Crazy nonsense like this progression!

Along with that, here are some other fun facts that helped me get to where I am:

  • Number of ab exercises: 0 (unless you count squats and deadlifts, ha!)
  • Number of weight machines used: 0 (except to hang my rings from!)
  • Hours of “cardio”: 0
  • Number of bench presses: 0
  • Favorite bicep exercise: weighted chin ups (now doing 3x3x+40lbs!)
  • Supplements taken: Whey Protein, BCAAs

what I learned

Steve Back Lever

I learned quite a bit about myself over these past six months, and I’d love to share those lessons with you:

SCREW THE SCALE: See the before and after?  I’m 6 pounds LIGHTER in my “after” photo!  The reason I had gotten up to a higher bodyfat percentage on the left was because I had become too obsessed with the scale. I had to see it go up, so I ate more than I should have, convinced that I was only building muscle and not adding on any fat.

Now, I step on the scale maybe once a month, but I instead go by two things:

  • Am I getting stronger?
  • How does this month’s picture compare to last month’s picture?

As long as both of those things were a positive, then I kept doing what I was doing. If not, I would adjust my diet.  The scale can lie!

IT HAS TO BE A PRIORITY: Before, I found less time to work out because I was so busy.  Then in six months, I started with exercising every day, sometimes twice a day (during the PLP Challenge). I haven’t missed a workout since.

What happened?  Did I find MORE time in the day than 24 hours? Nope! I just started eliminating the unimportant and made sure I NEVER MISSED A WORKOUT.  Sometimes I’d be late to a meeting and have to apologize, sometimes I’d be late in getting a draft done…but after a while I found that I could get all of my work done AND get my workout in.

I stopped saying “I don’t have time,” and started saying “I will NOT miss a workout!”

FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE PRIZE: If I had been focused on the prize (some arbitrary number of the scale), and I reached it just now, I could then say, “Mission accomplished! Now I can go back to doing what I was doing!”

However, because I fell in love with the process, I really don’t feel like I’m racing towards a goal, but rather enjoying each and every workout, trying to figure out if I can set a new personal record each day.  There’s a starting line, but no finish line…I’m never asking “Are we there yet?!” I’m just enjoying each and every day.

SIMPLIFY OTHER PARTS OF YOUR LIFE: I’m not gonna lie, my diet over the past few months has been boring as hell.  But, because I was trying to do all sorts of stuff with Nerd Fitness AND travel AND get my workouts in, one area of my life I chose to simplify was my diet.  Because I walk to the gym, I have pretty much alternated my lunches between two places that are on the way back:

  • Thai Food: mild Thai fried rice with chicken and vegetables
  • Chipotle: Burrito bowl with rice, no beans, double chicken, a bit of cheese, guacamole, and lettuce

I also drank my patented Powerbomb Protein shake (available to Academy Members), and then had some sort of chicken, vegetable, and rice combo for dinner.  A typical side would be apples and almond butter, or bowls of broccoli (seriously).  When I ate out at nice restaurants, it would be some starch, steak, and vegetables.

That’s it.

I realize that sounds UBER boring, and sure, preparing my own grass-fed steak, vegetables, and steamed rice would be healthier…but diet truly is 90% of the battle, and I knew that if I tried to get too complex or too creative with my meals I would have failed miserably at the diet portion.

To channel Teddy Roosevelt: I did the best I could, with what I had, where I was.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE MENTAL ASPECT:  I’m not lying when I say that my mental attitude was holding me back for the past few years, without even knowing it.  I just assumed I was fragile and always a day away from a pulled muscle.  It wasn’t until I adjusted my mental game, focusing on SLOW but consistent progress, and finally making warming up and stretching a priority.

HAVING SOMEBODY ELSE TELL YOU WHAT TO DO IS A GAME CHANGER:

“Steve, you have been programming workouts for Nerd Fitness for YEARS, why hire somebody to send you workouts?”

It’s weird, but when you pay somebody money to give you a workout plan, you actually FOLLOW it.  There are so many times I would have skipped movements I didn’t want to do, or skipped workouts for getting too busy, but because I paid somebody to send me a workout (that isn’t actually very different from what I would have been doing), I actually did it.

I have a hunch that’s why a lot of people have success with our Nerd Fitness Academy they have invested in themselves, and thus are more likely to take the workout plans we provide more seriously and actually DO THEM.

GET A LITTLE BIT BETTER: Each day I’ve gone to the gym since January, my workout has been a TINY bit better than the previous workout. Although I could have made faster jumps and bigger gains quicker, I stayed true to the plan, and added one rep per week, or five pounds every other week, and plodded along.  As the saying goes, “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I’m crawling towards new records every day, and it’s awesome.  If I ever get to deadlift 405 lbs, it’ll be because I snuck up on it slowly!

IT’S AMAZING WHAT THIS CAN DO FOR YOUR CONFIDENCE:  One of my best friends since college told me two weeks ago, “Steve, I’ve known you for 12 years and this is the best you’ve ever looked.”  You bet your ass I walked a little bit taller that day!

My shoulders are pulled back more, my head is held higher, and I’m walking with more confidence. I can tell that I get treated differently as a result. Combine this with a wardrobe that fits and leveled-up sock game, and I feel like a new person.

Now, about those social skills

What’s next?

Steve before:after 6 months

As I said above, like Iron Man coming back from his cave, I am just getting started on this path.  

I don’t know what the end goal is from a physique perspective, because I don’t really have one!

Sure, I have some physical goals on my Epic Quest that are back in play now that I have the base and confidence to lift heavy, and some of those gymnastic goals are within reach too (I’m coming for you 60-second handstand!), but I’m honestly just focusing on being better today than I was yesterday.

This isn’t “Before” and “After.”

It’s a “Before” and “During.”

Thanks for letting me share this with you.  I don’t generally post pictures of myself (unless it’s me with an ostrich), but hopefully you can learn from it!

If you have any questions for me on what I did or how I did it, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them as best I can.

For the Rebellion!

-Steve

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  • zlycher

    Thats right, one day at a time. And today happens to be leg day!

  • Nerdy Jock

    I think you looked pretty damn good in your “before,” but I know what you mean. I’m a trainer – fitness is my job, too – and I definitely go in cycles with my energy levels. I went through a nasty spell of depression for about a year and finally felt well enough to recommit last month. I quit weighing myself and doubled down on strength training. I’ve been very encouraged by all your (and Staci’s) posts on barbell training, and I am absolutely IN LOVE with it. All women should train to be strong – it does wonders for your emotional health.

  • lenstrom

    FringeSport is super-legit! I just order some plates from them a few weeks ago. Great service!

  • Dan

    Hey I’m a high school student and was wondering if strength training would be good for me at around 15-16 years old? I use body weight right now such as pull ups and push ups and such, I want to get into better shape i.e. lower body fat percentage like low teens. But I also don’t want to mess up systems in my growing body. Right now I mainly follow beginner body weight workouts like the one Steve wrote. Thanks!

  • Taylor Badd

    How long are your typical workouts? I’ve heard to keep it under an hour to control stress levels.

  • lenstrom

    @stevekamb:disqus Tag that photo NOW, bro! 😉

  • chives

    Hey steve,
    I’ve got a partially torn right rotator cuff (from overuse in tennis) and I feel like I’m in the same boat as you in the before photo- I look in pretty good shape but I feel sore and “fragile” as I often tweak muscles too. The rotator cuff has kept me from my workout, which was very wide grip pullup/shoulder oriented, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to start up again. Realistically maybe a month. The absence of my workout has also kind of killed my willpower to upkeep healthy diet. Any advice and/or motivational words to help?

  • M Christine Wildman

    Hey, who is this Mrs. Wildman????? 😉
    AND – the chiropractor I talked to today is down with bodyweight exercises! and with working for 6 months to see if we can reverse the herniations!
    Maybe a PLP IS in my future! just don’t tell WildRoss!

  • Ike Phenjati

    Congrats Steve! Your beyond superman. I also have a spinal condition similar to you. But i also love intense strength training as well. Do you have any recommendation for ppl with spinal condition? like anything to watch out for when lifting? THanks again for being an inspiration man, Good luck in the future

  • Aubrey Wahl

    Hey Steve. I’m excited to hear that your into gymnastic movements–particularily the lsit. Would you mind sharing how you train it, and whether this has been effictive or not? My goal for the summer is to hold a 60-sec full lsit so I can move on to some more advanced holds.

  • dominic

    O_O look at the lats, you beast!! Nice work Steve

  • Dan Quilty

    Jonathan,
    You can set MFP up to track your macros (if you’re into that kind of thing) and just ignore the calories.

    If you do this you shouldn’t log exercises in MFP or it will through your macro counts all out of whack

  • Rich

    Steve – I seem to recall that your doctor told you no more deadlifts due to your spinal alignment. What changed?

  • http://fastweightlossss.blogspot.com/2014/07/fast-weight-loss-body-fast-weight-loss.html Transcend Fitness

    This was a great article and im glad to see the transformation you went through. Continuous growth of the human body,physically and mentally, is the best way to get stronger. I have some new tips for people trying to lose weight and they can do it without counting calories or carbs. Check out the blog here. http://fastweightlossss.blogspot.com/2014/07/fast-weight-loss-body-fast-weight-loss.html

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  • Maddie Miller

    Wow! What amazing results you have achieved!! I’ve heard that Pilates Derby is really good when you want to gain lean muscles – apparently it doesnt make you too bulky, so probably best for women that want to tone up!!

  • http://regularhealthycompetition.com/ Captain Competition

    It is great to hear your story. It is encouraging that someone leading a fitness website still needs inspiration and a chance to re-focus. I love the idea of comparing pictures of yourself from month-to-month as a measure of your gains.
    RegularHealthyCompetition.com

  • http://www.strengthstandards.co strength standards

    Congratulations on your amazing progress!

  • zlycher

    Hey Dan I hope this reply reaches you. I wouldn’t say there is anything wrong with strength training at your age as long as you start slow. The only danger is trying to do more than you are capable of. This is especially important in your teenage years because you don’t fully know what your body’s limit is.

    At your age I would stick to what you can do consistently. If you try and take on too much and then get burnt out you won’t be helping yourself at all. I know when I was in high school there is no way I would be able to take up strength training. I needed better time management skills. If you feel you can include some strength training into your routine go for it!

  • Jack Bower

    Pshhh…your “after” pic looks like my “before” pic. Do you even lift, bro? (lol, J/K)

    Nice level up on not just your physique but your mental game as well, Steve. I hope you do another check-in article come December.

  • Dan

    Thanks zlycher, it is really helpful. I am pretty new to fitness stuff, so I like to follow Steve’s stuff, and do things that work for me. Thanks again!!

  • Pingback: Becoming Antifragile: How to Prepare Yourself for Chaos | Nerd Fitness()

  • Guest

    Congrats Steve, I appreciate the article. My challenge is in a different domain and wondering if you have any resources you can suggest when someone struggles with more mental health issues? Or perhaps how this would apply to someone who can’t seem to get traction with some gnarly depression/anxiety/disassociation cycles that are robbing me from living the life I dream of?

    Thanks for your time/consideration and cheers to the rebellion!
    Brian

  • https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianself007 Brian Self

    Congrats Steve, I appreciate the article. My challenge is in a different domain and wondering if you have any resources you can suggest when someone struggles with more mental health issues? Or perhaps how this would apply to someone who can’t seem to get traction with some gnarly depression/anxiety/disassociation cycles that are robbing me from my mental clarity?

    Thanks for your time/consideration and cheers to the rebellion!

  • http://soundshade.blogspot.com Peter Thomas

    Great progress since you’ve been back. It’s hard to get that work life balance right but looks like you’ve done it now.

  • http://bringonthefitness.com/ Rob Vangely

    Wow, great story..and motivating. Here’s some good tips I found if interested: http://bringonthefitness.com/

  • Junior

    Adorei a materária e tirei várias dúvidas. Aprendi também no site http://www.vitalsuplementos.com.br

  • Chillkröte

    What does ringwork mean? What did you do during your ring work sessions? I hope you will make a video of it sometimes =)

  • Mia

    Hey Steve,
    we should make you tracking your fitness with one of the new Fitness Tracker! If this is absolutely new for you: http://fitnesstracker24.com/samsung-gear-fit
    Would be awesome if you would make automated updated statistics on your site and we could check if you were actively doing a workout the last weeks 🙂 Would also improve the motivation for you!

  • Pingback: Healthy Hacks for Staying Fit On the Road | Nerd Fitness()

  • Moss

    Hey great work man. Could you tell us a bit more about the ring work you did? and is there abegginers guide to get started on this.

  • Kk

    Would you mind sharing the detailed workout plan for the first two month? I have lost 55lbs since July 2013, went from 92.5 kg 40% bf to now 70kg 18%, now trying to blast last bit of fat, I got my diet plan ready now looking for a workout plan. Thanks!

  • Jeremy Balliston

    Steve is there a reason why you didn’t do any bench pressing? I’m about three months away from finishing all the New Rules for Lifting programs and thinking about doing a similar route that you’ve listed above. I’m trying to plan things out.

  • Cosmeticon

    I’ve never commented on any fitness things ever, but I had to say I really appreciate how you are willing to talk about your own fitness struggles despite running this site and helping others. You made some killer progress and seem to have found an inspiring balance between self-discipline and self-compassion; patience and progress. I will try to keep that in mind when all the mental self-sabotage rears it’s ugly head. Thank you!

  • Pingback: What Can You Actually Get Done in Six Weeks? (A New Six-Week Challenge Starts!) | Nerd Fitness()

  • https://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve Kamb

    sorry for the delay on this – between ring work, weighted dips, and barbell overhead press…no need to bench 🙂

  • Jeremy Balliston

    No worries Steve. I made do. Thanks for the twitter advice on the last couple days too.

  • Ace

    This is incredibly inspiring! I’ve been trying to find a new way of attacking my lifts and I’m considering modeling it after your deadlifts. I just have one question, though. In your deadlifts, was it 1 set of 280, then 2 sets of 280 the following week, and so on? Or was it 1 rep of 280, then 2 reps of 280 the following week, etc.?