Where Are You Now?

The single most important piece of information you can have in relation to your goals is understanding where you are now.

Maybe you know where you want to go. Your destination can be literal or metaphorical, but for now let’s treat it as literal. You want to go to Los Angeles. As valuable as it is to know where you want to go, you have to know where you are right now. The directions to L.A. are very different if you’re in New York than if you’re in Miami.

It works similarly when it comes to fitness. You probably have an idea what your fitness goals are. Take an honest evaluation of where you are right now. It’s not the most comfortable thing but it’s necessary.

It’s not about blame or shame here. Returning to the travel metaphor, you’re lost right now and you’re only trying to orient yourself so you know which way to head. There’s no value in beating yourself up about how you got lost or how long you’ve been lost. That’s just wasting time and making you feel bad.

Once you know both where you are and where you want to go, the only thing left to do is figure out a path and start moving.

No matter what fitness goal you’re after, there’s a really high chance someone has accomplished it. In fact, many people have done it. That’s good. First off, if they could do it, so can you. Second, the path is already made, so you don’t have to wander around in the dark.

Ask. Research. Google. Do a little digging to learn what paths they took.

This part shouldn’t take you too long (hint: if they’re in great shape, they probably ate and trained consistently). Many people get stuck here because there’s just so much information out there.

Search a handful and you’ll see they have certain things in common. Trust your BS detector. If something promises instant results or bare minimum effort, that’s not the one. Put another way, there are no shortcuts.

You don’t have to know the exact path before you start moving. If you can lay it out, that’s great. But whether you’re in South Beach or Manhattan, to get to L.A. you’re going to have start moving west.

So get going.

A general direction is enough to start. So start.

As you go, you can adjust your route as needed.

A few last things to truly beat this metaphor into the dirt:

  • Obey the speed limit. Trying to get there as fast as possible is dangerous.
  • Avoid unnecessary detours. Sometimes you’ll have to adjust your route to get there. That’s okay. But getting distracted and deviating too much from the plan will get you lost again.
  • If you get lost, that’s not the end of the world. Now you know, just figure out where you are.
  • Enjoy the ride. Appreciate the journey as you go.
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How Often Should You Train?

Training 3-4 days a week is most likely the best way for you to achieve your fitness goals.

Seems like everyone’s talking about being on their “everyday grind” but is that the most effective way to get fit?

Your training frequency (or how many times per week you work out) is just one variable on your path to progress. But it can have a big impact.

Generally speaking, training more often is better. As with most things, there comes a tipping point. More sessions means more opportunities to stimulate the muscle. Lifting relatively heavy lets your muscles know, “hey we may be asked to move heavy weights so we’d better get stronger.”

We don’t actually get stronger from that. It’s the recovery phase, in which the muscles utilize nutrients from food to repair and build. So the stimulus and the recovery are equally important to your progress. You could make the case that recovery is more important as it takes much longer to happen. You can do an hour-long workout at still be recovering 48 hours later.

When you’re a beginner more frequent training is beneficial for a few reasons. You’re becoming accustomed to the exercises, so the more you do them the better they become ingrained movement patterns. Plus, you build the habit of actually going to the gym. We know habits are hard to build and even harder to break.

If one person practiced playing the piano an hour a day and another practiced 3.5 hours twice a week, who do you think would improve faster? It’s similar with training. Learning to squat with a barbell on your back is a skill. Doing it more frequently when you’re starting out will help you learn it better. Seems like a good time to say here that it’s much better to learn the right way to do early on, than it is to relearn once you’ve adopted poor movement patterns.

Beginners generally aren’t using a lot of weight in a more objective sense. Doing sets of higher repetitions (e.g. 8-12 per set) helps you internalize the movement and stimulate muscle and strength gains without approaching your 1 rep maximum weight.

I would say wait a long time before testing your 1-rep max but most people don’t listen. I’m included in that group. Testing isn’t training. It doesn’t really make you stronger. Training is training. That makes you stronger, so spend most of your gym time doing that. Besides, when you’re a beginner, your 1 RM isn’t likely to be all that impressive anyway.

A beginner can make great strides doing a full-body workout 3 days per week. A full-body workout will include a compound exercises that work the legs, the upper body push muscles, and the upper body pull muscles. Taking a day off between sessions will allow your body adequate time to recover.

You really could do this for the first several months of your training life.

At some point your training needs will change. This is where you can get creative with your programming. Over time, you’ll need higher weights to stimulate the muscles to keep getting stronger. This greater stimulus also means you’ll need increased recovery time.

It’s now a great time to switch to a split workout. A popular and effective split is to do upper body exercises in one session and lower body exercises in another. One example week looks like: Monday – upper body, Tuesday – lower body, Wednesday – off, Thursday – upper body, Friday – lower body, Saturday and Sunday – both off. There’s nothing magical about those particular days, you fit the days to your schedule. If you’d rather workout Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, that’s cool.

This has you training four days a week in a way that allows you to work hard yet with enough time for recovery. Your Monday and Thursday sessions can be identical or you can slightly alter them. It’s tough to do deadlifts and squats in the same workout, so perhaps it makes sense for you to do one on Monday and the other on Thursday. You can do the same thing with upper body lifts.

If you still prefer training 3 days a week, you can keep that model with only a slight change. One way I like to structure this is an A, B model, where one represents your upper body training and the other is your lower body training.

One week it’ll be Monday – A, Wednesday – B, Friday – A. The following week you reverse it, Monday – B, Wednesday – A, and Friday – B. Alternating the weeks like this will keep you getting stronger and perhaps stave off feeling bored.

The pertinent question is how do you know when it’s time to change? There’s no one size fits all response. When your progress really starts to stall, that’s a good indicator. I don’t mean you hit a plateau for a week or two. Sometimes that just happens. When you first start you can increase the weights sometimes literally each workout. Your rate of improvement is fastest at the beginning and tapers as you get stronger.

One popular workout schedule out there is the “Bro Split”, where you have a designated day for each major body part. The theory is you beat the hell out focus on 1 or 2 body parts per workout. It often looks something like: Monday – chest, Tuesday – back, Wednesday – legs, Thursday – shoulders and calves, Friday – biceps and triceps.

The upside is you can really work on developing body parts you feel are lagging. One of the downsides is you’re only hitting each muscle group once a week. This works for some people but I don’t think it’s optimal for most people. If you’re planning on being on stage, then making sure your calves are as peaked as possible may make sense.

If your training is about you getting stronger overall, and feeling better and healthier for life in general, I don’t think doing a bro split is going to get you the best results. I mention it because it’s an option, and ultimately, you choose your own path.

Most of us just want to be a little healthier, look a little better, and move through life a little easier. There’s no question a three-day routine can help you accomplish that, provided you put in the effort and give it some time.

Level Up Your Fitness

 If you’re not into video games it might be hard to even understand their appeal. If you are, you may not have thought past “they’re just fun.”

 This isn’t about liking or disliking video games. We can take something valuable from how they’re structured.

 When you begin a video game (think of just about anyone you can think of), it usually follows a similar path. Orientation, exploration, mission, acquisition, and reward.

 First you’re immersed into that world and there’s an orientation. You learn how to move and what the buttons do.

 Next you find out your objective, maybe it’s slay the dragon, save the world, or win the championship. Of course, you don’t just go straight to the dragon’s lair. You start with smaller missions. This is exploration.

 This is, you may be thinking, when game really starts. You set out on your mission, a short-term goal that advances the story. You begin skill acquisition. How to run the plays in a sports game. How to defeat the low-level bad guys and loot them for their weapons, money, or xp.

 You improve pretty quickly and what happens? Your avatar levels up and becomes stronger and more capable. This is the reward part of the cycle.

 Then the loop essentially resets but everything is a little more difficult. The missions are more complex, the bad guys are harder to defeat, you get more skilled, and the rewards are bigger.

The cycle holds you engaged by keeping you right at the edge of your ability. A game that’s too easy won’t hold your interest. If the learning curve is too steep, the frustration is too high and the game isn’t fun.

 The key is to find that middle ground where you’re challenged. You feel perpetually pretty good. You know how to play but you need your full concentration in order to keep advancing. You may “die” some but it doesn’t feel hopeless.

 The same basic model is true when it comes to fitness. You start out in a strange new space called the gym. Your mission is to get stronger.

 The so-called “light” weights feel heavy as you orient yourself and get used to all the movements.

 There’s no clear-cut bad guys (well, I sincerely hope not) so you progress first by just surviving the early sessions. Each time you workout you’re a little bit stronger. Just like a good, challenging video game, you won’t just sail through. You don’t “die” like your on-screen counterpart, but you will have obstacles and sticking points. And you overcome them the same way, by persevering and learning.

 Adding weights to the bar is the easy corollary to leveling up. The reward is a more capable body and an improved appearance. And the cycle continues as the heavier weights and harder workouts are a greater challenge than before.

 While sitting in your chair playing video games won’t get you in better shape, hopefully now going to the gym can feel more like you’re heroically saving the planet from destruction.

 

Don’t Be Mr. Burns

Spend hours every day hunched over a desk or steering wheel? How to undo the damage.

 Modern life is trying to turn you into C. Montgomery Burns. And not in the rich enough to build a device to block out the sun way.

 Do you spend hours driving? Do you sit at a desk for hours at a time, probably typing away at a keyboard? Perhaps staring down at your phone or tablet?

 Maybe you’re sitting at a desk right now. Notice your posture. Are you hunched? Shoulders rounded forward?

 Spending hours a day in that position affects your posture in the long term. In time, this Mr. Burns posture will become normal for you. It’s uncomfortable and might even be painful.

 But it’s not inevitable. And it’s correctable.

 When you’re hunched over like that, your upper back muscles are stretched and tight. Your chest is caved in and weak.

 Sitting for prolonged periods tightens your hip flexors and hamstrings, and signals your butt to basically go to sleep.

 You can fight this by making a point to get up every 45 minutes to an hour. Stand up tall, move around a bit. Stretch. Go for a quick walk if you can. It can also help break up the monotony of the task at hand and clear your head. Even a couple minutes can refresh your mind and spirit.

 If you really want to help combat it, you can do Wall Slides. Essentially, you move your body into the opposite position of sitting hunched over. It’s a great way to feel your chest and shoulders open up.

 The first thing you’ll need is a wall. You don’t need anything else.

 Stand with your back towards the wall. Your butt, upper back and the back of your head should be against the wall. Move your arms out so you’re almost in the “hands up” position. The back of your forearms and hands will be against the wall. Keep your core engaged. Slowly raise your arms up, making sure all those points above remain in contact with the wall. The entire time you want to keep your shoulder blades squeezed together and down. You don’t want to shrug.

 At the top of the movement, you’ll look similar to a ref signaling a touchdown. Then reverse the movement back to the starting position. Repeat for 8-10 repetitions a couple times a day and you should notice your posture improving pretty quickly.

 If you can’t slide your arms very far without losing contact with the wall, that’s okay. Work within the range you can while still maintaining all the points of contact against the wall. Over time, you’ll notice that will improve too.

 Hope this helps! Any questions or if you just want to say hi, let me know.

Your Best Year Yet

How to split your goals into bite-size pieces in order to accomplish great things!

Make 2018 Your Best Year Ever!

A year from now, what do you want to have accomplished?

2018 is just a week old and it seems way too early to be thinking about January 2019. A year is a long time and at the same time it’s also short. Time’s funny that way.

You can accomplish a lot in just 12 months if you lay out your goals, break them into smaller steps, and make sure to take one step daily.

Sounds easy enough, right? But committing to doing something for 365 days is pretty daunting.

Take those 12 months and break them into quarters. What can you do in the next 90 days to be fitter and healthier? That’s a little bit easier to chew, isn’t it?

Now take each month and split that into quarters. What can you do in the next 4 weeks to be fitter and healthier. Four weeks is definitely doable.

Divide the weeks into quarters. What can you do in the next 7 days to get yourself better? I’m pretty sure you see what’s going on here.

Finally take those 7 days and ask yourself, what can I do today to improve?

This is how you make big changes happen. Pick big goals and ask yourself what are the steps to get there. Keep breaking things down until you have clear action steps you can act upon today.

You want to lose 50lbs. In 2018? Awesome. That’s a big goal. Obviously you can’t accomplish that in a week (at least not without a knife).

Dropping 50 lbs. in a year equates to an average 12.5 lbs. every quarter. That’s definitely less intimidating now, isn’t it?

It’s just over 4 lbs. a month.

It’s just under 1 lb. per week.

Just like that, it doesn’t seem so big, does it? Aiming for 1 lb. per week is just a way to restate 50 lbs. per year.Of course, this is an average and progress is never perfectly linear ‘cause we’re people not robots.

You can see that shooting for 1 lb. a week won’t mean you have to change things up drastically in your day to day life. Making small changes like drinking more water (or substituting diet soda for regular soda) add up to big differences over time.

There’s no need to try to totally revolutionize your life. Trying to transform from someone who doesn’t pay attention to your diet and hardly ever exercises into a person who works out every day and eats “perfectly” is just setting yourself up to come up short.

Make small changes, especially at first. They may seem insignificant but they really aren’t. You’re stacking wins.

Why is that important?

Stacking wins builds your confidence. You said you were going to drink more water and cut back from 3 cans of soda per day to 2. And you did it. That’s not nothing. You just proved to yourself that you can make and keep a promise to yourself. You’re more confident because you now know you can trust yourself a little bit more than before.

Then you make one more small change. Maybe it’s going from 2 sodas to 1 a day. Or you go for a 10-minute walk after lunch. You don’t have to change a lot at a time.

Just keep stacking wins. The best part is you don’t have to be perfect. There are going to be setbacks and slip-ups. That’s okay, just get back on track as soon as you can.

That’s just one example of breaking things down into smaller, actionable steps. It can work for you no matter what your goals are.

I hope this helps! Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments, let me know.

Enjoy It!

     Merry Christmas! Whether you celebrate or how you do it, I hope it’s a happy occasion for you.

     This time of year it’s really nice to enjoy time with loved ones. Hopefully you have some time off, too.

     If you’re anxious about counting calories or getting in all your workouts, relax. Don’t worry about it. Enjoy.

     You can everything you want to eat, just not all of it. When you’re eating meals with family and friends, feel free to have some of everything you want. Don’t worry about tracking calories or macros.

     Instead on focus on having a good time with the people you’re with.
Thanks for reading. Hope you’re having a great one!

Finicky Eater?

For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I was never able to put on any weight. I was a really skinny kid. So skinny, I barely cast a shadow.

Being a finic- I mean, selective eater doesn’t mean you can’t make great gains. Just as there’s no one food you have to avoid in order to lose weight, there is no food you absolutely have to eat in order to help you put on muscle.

I know this is probably contrary to some things you’ve heard. Maybe you’ve read about the GOMAD approach. If you haven’t, that’s drinking a Gallon Of Milk A Day. Some people actually do this. I think it’s excessive, but if that’s what you want to do, go for it.

There’s no arguing that milk is the one substance specifically evolved to grow little baby mammals into larger ones.

(I’m not going to get into the merits or morality of humans drinking other mammals’ milk. I will say, I’m totally against depriving baby almonds from their moms’ milk though).

IMG_2748As long as I can remember, I have hated milk. The taste, texture, smell, everything. I must have been stubborn about it ‘cause I don’t recall my parents ever trying to force me to drink it. I must have gotten enough calcium and vitamin D ‘cause not only have I never broken a bone (knocks on wood), I am still alive. I made it all the way to adulthood!

This isn’t to knock milk specifically. If you love it, good. I solemnly swear to never take yours.

I was born lucky enough to develop a finicky appetite with other foods too. I’ll spare you the list (you’re welcome). It wasn’t like I grew up only on junk food or anything like that. There’s a bunch of healthy foods I like.

The truth is, if you’re a finicky eater, that’s okay.

It doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life as a malnourished stick figure.

What it does mean is if you’re looking to put on lean mass, you’re going to have to do a couple things. You’re going to have to eat a whole lot of the few things you do like. And you’re going to have to keep trying new foods, even if you’re pretty sure you’re going to hate it. Once in awhile you should even retry something you hated just to see if your tastes have changed.

IMG_2749

It never made sense to me why anyone would force someone to eat something they clearly hate. Any nutrition you miss from not eating something you dislike can likely be made up by eating something else you do like. So don’t think that you should replace your most-despised vegetable with Pop-Tarts. Being a picky eater doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat mostly healthy. Any calories you’d miss from one food can always be replaced by eating something you prefer.

 

Making sure you eat proper nutrition will help keep you healthy. But it’s the calories that are going to help you add size. Simply put, in order to put on size you need to eat more calories than you burn consistently over time. The fancy term for this is eating at a “calorie surplus”.

The best way to make sure those excess calories are used to fuel muscle growth rather than fat is to do strength training. You want to lift weights a few times per week. Focus on getting stronger at compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench press and pull-ups while eating at a slight calorie surplus.

Be patient, this will take time. Especially if you’re finicky.

 Thanks for reading. I hope this helps!

 

 

P.S. No. I’m not trying milk again. Last time I tried was when I was in college and I’m good. Same for liver and brussels sprouts.