4th Quarter

It’s the beginning of October. That means it’s the start of the 4th quarter of 2017. Are you still on track for the goals you set for yourself this year?

If you are, you’re awesome. If you’ve already achieved what you set out to for the year… it’s time to pick bigger goals.

If you’ve fallen off, it’s easy to start thinking about ‘18. I mean, there are only a few weeks until the holidays and you may as well just slack off and enjoy, right?

Nope.

First, there’s still plenty of time left to put in lots of solid work towards your goals. For the sports fans, is there any greater thrill than a late-game comeback win? Who doesn’t love a movie where the hero overcomes the biggest challenge at the end? You are the hero of your story. If you truly want something, go after it. Take actions every day (every day) that put you closer to it. You won’t make giant strides daily. Small steps are still progress.

Second, you know “I’ll wait ‘til next year and then I’ll start” is bs. It’s just procrastination with no benefit. Why would you wait to improve your life? If it’s a good idea to start in January, it’s a good idea to start in October. As in now. Today.

Are you going to look back a year from now and say, I’m so glad I waited until January to get started? Or are you more likely to think you should’ve started earlier?

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to be more fit, drop that fat, build muscle, make a million dollars, write that novel, etc. Waiting is wasting. Go. Do.

You got this! Hope this helps. Thanks for reading. Leave a comment or question below.

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Fitness Apps

Recently a good friend asked me about fitness apps and I think this is a good opportunity to talk about what to look for. The first thing to consider is what do you want from an app, what do you need from it? They can do a number of things. At a basic level, a good one will allow you to enter data so you can keep track of your workouts. Keeping track is essential to your continued progress. If you don’t progress, you don’t change. If you’re not changing, it won’t be long before you’re frustrated.

A useful app will have a good library of exercises. It’s even better if there are demonstration videos. It will allow you to enter data for your training, specifically the exercises, weights used, sets and repetitions. Some will have pre-designed training routines which you may find valuable if you prefer that to creating your own. This can be especially helpful if you’re just starting out. It should also allow you the flexibility to create and edit your routine if that suits you better. The variation in the ways each app is laid out will largely determine its appeal to you.

Another useful feature is a timer/clock. Your smartphone probably already has this, it’s nice if you don’t have to use separate apps. I’m a big believer in keeping your workouts to an hour or less. An app that keeps track of rest periods for you will ensure you stay on point. The length of your rest times will depend on your fitness goals and schedule but it’s important to stay consistent. A workout with rest periods of 30 seconds is going to feel very different than one with 2 minutes between sets.

A good app will be able to show you the trends of your workouts so you can easily view your progression over time. This is another instance where your preference comes into play. You may like a numerical listing of your personal bests (a.k.a. personal records, a.k.a. PR’s) or a line graph, or a bar graph. It’s up to you. Who doesn’t enjoy taking a second to reflect on your accomplishments?

I use this one but obviously there are many to choose from*. I just like the layout and the ease of use. Maybe you’ll like it too, or perhaps you prefer another one. (Help out other readers by leaving your favorite in the comments section)

Apps where you can track your calories and macros can be instrumental whether your goal is losing fat or building muscle. It’s convenient if it has the ability to enter foods by name or scan barcodes. It should also allow you to create and store some favorite foods or meals, which is a great shortcut. There are a few things to be aware of with just calorie apps. First, their databases may be slightly off with the calories, which is frustrating because it defeats the purpose of having it. Next, understand that no matter how you’re tracking calories, it’s an estimate. So don’t get too hung up on whether it’s 43 calories or 48 calories, okay? Third, make sure when you enter meat in the the app that you specify whether it’s raw or cooked. A raw 4 oz. chicken breast is about 117 calories. A cooked 4 oz. chicken breast is about 184 calories.

I like this and this for tracking calories*. (Let other readers know which ones you find most helpful in the comments)

I want to say is that it’s absolutely not necessary to use an app to track your workouts or you food, but they’re both certainly really helpful.

Thanks for reading!

*I’m not sponsored or endorsed by any app or company. These are just my personal opinions.

Trigger foods

The hardest part about dropping weight is the food restriction. Whether you cut out certain foods or just reduce the amounts, there’s going to be some sort of calorie restriction. I don’t advocate cutting out foods you enjoy, mainly because I don’t think it’s sustainable to deprive yourself in the long term.

However, if you know there’s a particular food that you just can’t resist devouring, it may make sense to limit how frequently you have it. Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have it. Just save it for once in a while.

For instance, maybe it’s virtually impossible for you to have just a few chips. Or perhaps there’s something about pizza where one slice turns into the whole pie. Personally, it’s really difficult to just have a couple cookies. I tell myself I’m only going to have 3 and next thing I know, there’s an empty, crumpled up, plastic sleeve on the table.

It’s not a big deal though. I just make sure not to have cookies around very often. I find substituting another food works better for me. For whatever reason, I have no problem just having a couple spoonfuls of ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy my ice cream. I can have some without the little voice in my head urging me to eat the whole pint. This means I get to eat it without worrying about going over my targeted amount of calories.

I don’t think I’m unique that way. I don’t pretend to understand why. It doesn’t have to be just sweets either. If you can figure out a workable substitute for a food you find hard to enjoy in moderation, it’ll go a long way towards helping you achieve your goals. Obviously swapping out your pizza for broccoli probably won’t work in the long term, unless you really love broccoli. But maybe there’s a pasta dish that you like but are able to limit yourself.

Again, this isn’t about swearing off any particular food you love. Telling yourself “I’m never having that again!” just makes that all the more irresistible. Fitness isn’t about filling your life with “Never!” We just want to be strategic about the approach.

The easiest way to avoid temptation is to avoid temptation. If you know you can’t resist it, it’s probably a bad idea to have it in your home. Or at least buy it in such a way that you limit yourself. If ice cream is your weakness, perhaps you can buy it in those little single-serve cups one at a time, rather than by the pint or half gallon.

Let’s be perfectly clear: if you go overboard one day and just eat a whole sleeve of cookies or whatever, it’s not ideal, but really it’s no big deal. Don’t waste time beating yourself up about it. Don’t throw up your hands and give in and turn it into a bingeing weekend. Just get back to your plan as soon as you can. If you take nothing else from this, please remember this.

Hope this is helpful. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below. Thanks for reading.

Hydration

How Much Water Should You Drink?

Short Version:

Drink when you’re thirsty. Your body is smart enough to give you a hint and a half when you’re getting dehydrated. Listen to it.

Longer Version:

There’s that old saying that you should have 8 glasses of water per day. I haven’t been able to track down exactly where that came from, only that it’s been around long enough to be common knowledge. But is that right?

As with most things, it depends. There’s no scientific evidence backing the 8 glasses per day claim. If you’re in a hotter climate, that’s probably not enough. Same if you’re training hard. If you’re thirsty, you should probably drink more. If your urine is a dark shade of yellow, it’s a good sign you’re dehydrated. (Note, taking a multivitamin or vitamin B, your urine may appear bright yellow but in this case it doesn’t signal you need more water).

Benefits of Water

Water is crucial to a proper functioning body and mind.

Here are just a few things it helps:

  1. Fight fatigue
  2. Keep the skin clear and healthy
  3. Maintain good digestion
  4. Weight loss by making you feel fuller
  5. Improve mood
  6. Cushion joints and cartilage
  7. Regulate body temperature
  8. Regulate blood pressure

Some good news is that all fluids count towards your hydration, so does food. Despite rumors to the contrary, coffee counts too.

Symptoms of Dehydration

When training, it’s a good idea to make sure you have some water about half an hour before. Drink about 8-10 ounces for every 20 minutes of exercise. And another 8-10 ounces after your workout.

Some symptoms of dehydration are thirst (duh), less frequent urination, darker colored urine, dizziness, and confusion. I don’t think you want to be dizzy and confused while you’re under a heavy barbell. Not being properly hydrated negatively impacts both aerobic and anaerobic athletic performance. When you exercise, your core temperature rises. Your body compensates for this by increasing the production of sweat. The sweat evaporates off your skin, reducing the temperature. Without proper hydration you won’t be able to sweat as much, which reduces the body’s ability to keep the core temperature under control.

Water Making sure you’re drinking enough water will help your body and mind function better both in and out of the gym. You don’t have to go crazy and drink 5 gallons a day. Common sense goes a long way here. Drinking when you’re thirsty is generally a good way to manage. If you’re in an especially hot environment you should probably pay more attention to your water intake. In humid conditions you’ll be more likely to notice you’re sweating. If you’re somewhere where there’s “dry heat” it may not be as apparent. The heat will evaporate the sweat off your skin before you really ever feel sweaty. For that reason, it’s especially important to make sure you’re having enough water in that climate.

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments, leave them below.

Fitness and Time

You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready

Fitness and Time

If you’re wondering how fitness can fit into your life, there’s something I really think you should consider: Time.

We all think there’s too little of it, right? Too many things to get done in the day and too few hours to do them. You may believe you don’t have time to fit working out in your schedule.

It’s true there is no way to create more time. None of us knows how much we have left. Being fit can’t guarantee to give you more time. But it can definitely add more value to however much more life you have. It may be 6 months or it may be 50 years.

How Do You Want To Age?

Think about the quality of life you want for those years.

Being fit can definitely impact that in a positive way.

Fitness is an investment in yourself. Definitely for the present version of you, but more importantly it’s about the future version of you. You put in now and reap the rewards later.

Like any investment, there’s an upfront cost. Since it’s upfront it’s much easier to see than the rewards, which come later. You may have to wake up an hour earlier and sweat some. At first, it probably won’t be the most fun you’ve ever had. Likely you won’t see the payoff right away.

A few weeks in, or perhaps it’s a couple months, you’ll notice the quality of your life is already getting better. You’re less tired and lethargic during the day. You sleep better. Walking a flight of stairs is easier. You can keep up with your kids better. The groceries feel lighter. Your clothes fit better. You feel more confident. You’ll be better able to work. Even sex is better.

In short, being fit makes you more able to squeeze in more into each day.

In order to keep seeing the returns, you do still have to keep exercising. But guess what? You have the power of habit on your side now. Working out is part of your routine at this point. It requires less mental energy to get up and get started. Even better, maintaining being fit is a lot easier than getting there in the first place. I bet you even enjoy your training sessions.

We don’t stop moving because we age, we age because we stop moving. Yeah, it’s a cliche but I think there’s a lot of truth to it. If you’ve ever been in shape for a while and then let your fitness slide, you know how this works. I don’t mean you went on vacation or you took off from the gym for a couple weeks. I mean a real backslide. Maybe you built up to a 405 lb. squat. Or running 5 miles was a breeze. And now you’re ready for a nap after walking up a flight of stairs. You’ve experienced what it is to feel “man, that used to be really easy and now it’s really difficult.” It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve done this myself a few times.

This guy stays ready

One of my favorite sayings is, You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready. You pay the upfront cost, which is when you’re putting in the time and effort to get your fitness going. Once that happens, you can maintain for a long time, meaning you can enjoy the rewards for years to come. Whether that’s just having an easier time playing with your kids or hauling groceries, or if it’s still being able to move around unassisted as you get old, it’s worth it.

Maintaining fitness is easier than obtaining it in the first place. If you’ve let yourself go a little bit, it’s time to get back on your game. You got this!

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments? You can leave those below, I’m happy to read them.

Inspiration is Overrated

Inspiration and Motivation are Overrated

Inspiration is overrated. Sure, it has value and can be useful. Think back on the last time you felt truly inspired. How long did that inspiration last? What did you do about it? Let’s talk about what inspiration actually is. Oxford defines it thus : the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something.

It’s the spark.

At its root, inspiration is a feeling, an emotion. By definition, that means it’s ephemeral. You can feel it very strongly at the moment, but it’s just not going to last. You can harness the feeling to help you. Or it can be like letting your inner 2 year old be in charge. The intensity of the feeling is really strong but is what it’s inspiring you to do actually going to help your long term goals?

Motivation is overrated. Again, let’s define Motivation. It’s the why. There are two types of motivation. The first is external, it comes to you from someone or something else. A parent motivates a child to keep his/her room clean often by threat or promise of reward. Does it work? Perhaps, but again, only for a while. Chances are it won’t be long before the kid requires another dose of motivation. (I swear, I don’t hate kids. Well, not all kids.)

Internal motivation is different. Continuing the example, this would be the type of kid who cleans his/her room on his/her own. Internal motivation comes from (duh) within. It’s hard to cultivate, but it lasts. It’s about setting and living up to your own personal standards.

Being an adult means choosing what you prioritize. No one is going to tell you why it’s important (or for some of us, if it’s important) to keep your living space clean.

Motivation is also emotional. The authority figure promises a reward or a punishment that spurs you to action. The fear of the punishment and the hope for the reward are both emotions. They do have some value, but again, it’s short-lived.

The Internal Motivation is a more deeply-seated emotion because it’s from within you. Something you want will always be a more powerful driver than something someone else wants you to do. However, desire is still a feeling, which means it also waxes and wanes.

Discipline is underrated. This gives us the how. Discipline is the control that results from training. It’s the structure or framework for the actions that will lead us to achieve our goals. Discipline is tied very closely to habits. It’s the willingness to apply the habits consistently over the long term, regardless whether we feel like it or not.

We see right there that discipline is more powerful and more durable than emotion. You do what you need to do, when it needs to be done, whether you feel like it or not. Think how much you can accomplish this way.

Chances are, you exercise it in some areas of your life already. If you have kids, you bathe, feed, and clothe them daily. Aren’t there days when you don’t feel like it? Yet you do it anyway because it needs to be done.

The good news is that means you know for a fact that you can implement discipline in your life consistently. Now what do you think would happen if you applied it to your fitness goals?

Habits are underrated. This is the what. Put another way, Habits are the summation of all the small behaviors that make up the discipline. These are the actions within the framework of discipline. We all have habits anyway. Think about all the things we do pretty much every day. Most of the things we do each day are things we do so often that we barely think about them. Brushing your teeth in the morning, getting dressed, your path to work.

In the fitness and health context, some of these habits are what time of day you workout, the structure and order of your workouts, and of course, all the foods and drinks we take in.

These aren’t emotional. In fact, when our habits are deeply ingrained, we do them without conscious thought or feeling. You’re not actively thinking, first I pick up the toothbrush, then I take the cap of the toothpaste, etc. You don’t feel, “oh no, if I don’t brush my teeth, they’ll rot!” every time you start the process. (Or maybe you do. Ha.) It’s pretty much autopilot.

Habit are just things we do. This is why it’s so imperative to actively cultivate ones that will help us achieve what we’re really after.

Ideally, you’d use all four of these concepts together to Chase down your goals at top speed. But life is rarely ideal, and when it is, that’s just for a short time. Take full advantage of those times when you’re Inspired and Motivated to use Discipline in your daily Habits.

Discipline and Habits are at the core though. This pair will keep you marching towards your goals when the other two are flagging. They are the most powerful tools we have in order to accomplish our goals.

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Minimum Effective Dose

Minimum effective dose. A three-word phrase meaning just enough to have an effect. It’s great when it comes to medicine. You take only as much as you need to in order to get better. Taking more won’t make you heal faster. Taking too much will actually make you sick.

There’s a tendency to think that “more is more” when it comes to fitness. More weights. More sets. More reps. Longer sessions. It’s certainly true that increasing these things can be beneficial… but only up to a point.

As you do more, you’ll encounter the law of diminishing returns, where (in this context) each marginal increase in effort is no longer matched by an increase in results. This is a really frustrating place to be.

Imagine (or remember when) you’re first starting out training. Each workout you see improvement. Many call this period “newbie gains.” There are reasons for this but they can easily be summed up thus: at the beginning you have nowhere to go but up. As you get more and more experienced, you’ll see the rate of your improvement gradually slow down.

Training is about stimuli and adaptation. Your workouts provide a stimulus your body isn’t used to. With proper rest and recovery, your body adapts to the previous stimulus. In other words, the first time you try to run a mile, it’s difficult. The second time it’s easier. Congratulations, you’re in slightly better shape. The downside is it will now take a slightly greater stimulus to cause your body to adapt further.

By the way, this cycle doesn’t just happen in fitness. At one point, you found it challenging to read single letters. The fact that you’re reading this now means your brain adapted. You learned more complex words and sentences and now you can read. (Insert your own joke here about articles continuing to stimulate brain growth).

Minimum effective dose should allow you to keep gaining steadily for a long time. You leave yourself as much space to add more things as you can.

It’s about sustaining progress over the long term.

Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. Start simple. You can always add complexity later if it’s necessary. Start off slowly. Fitness isn’t about getting as lean or as strong as possible as quickly as you can. It’s about being healthy and having a high quality of life sustained over the long run.

It’s very tempting to try to ramp up as fast as possible (to lose 50 lbs. or get that 315 lb. bench press NOW!) right? There’s a definite cost. Losing weight as rapidly as possible means you’ll lose muscle and strength as well as fat. You’ll have to deprive yourself of foods you enjoy. Are you really going to live the rest of your life without any carbs? Is this sustainable? What does this mean about the rest of your life?

Put another way, if you start at full speed, what do you do when that stops working? You cut out all the “bad” foods, you workout 2 hours a day, 7 days a week. At first it worked really well but a couple months in your progress has stalled. Now what do you do?

Using the minimum effective dose means that you have room to adjust when your rate of progress begins to stall. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to focus on training hard and eating smart. You need that in order to achieve your goals. But you don’t have to live an ascetic life to get what you want.

Your training should be challenging, no question. But it doesn’t need to leave you feeling destroyed after the workout. If you’re trying to lose fat, your calorie deficit should be just enough to keep the train moving, not the bare minimum to keep you alive. If you’re trying to put on mass, your surplus should be sufficient that you’re not adding a lot more fat than muscle.

Thanks for reading!