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.
I 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.
Back 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
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
After 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.
- 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..
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
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.
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…
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!