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.

 

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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.

Pick One Thing

When it comes to fitness goals, I believe the best strategy is to pick the one you want most and focus on that.

Sure, just about everyone wants to be Stronger, Leaner, with Bigger Muscles, Six Pack Abs, and Aerobic conditioning.

It’s really, really difficult to be all those things at once. I know, that’s not what most people are going to tell you.

You can achieve any one of those goals. But trying to get them all at the same time will have you stretching in opposing directions.

Getting really strong means you’ll focus on lifting increasingly heavy weight. You’ll be taking long breaks between sets. You’ll eat at a surplus to fuel your progress. You won’t be doing bodybuilding-type workouts so you won’t have perfect delts.

Getting really lean means you’ll focus on dropping fat by eating fewer calories. You’ll train hard in the gym to stay strong, but it’ll be really tough to increase your strength.

To get bigger muscles you’ll concentrate on bodybuilding training. Higher reps than working on pure strength. You’ll pay special attention on growing lagging parts.

For aerobic conditioning you’ll emphasize that kind of training, which means you’ll de-emphasize strength training somewhat.

Pick one direction and put your energy mainly towards accomplishing that. Don’t worry, it’s not forever! You work at that for a few months, and then if your interest or priorities shift, you adjust your training to align with your new goals.

Your goals are specific to you and it’s natural they’ll change over time. Rather than chase them all at the same time, cycle through different points of emphasis you’ll see improvement in all of them over time.

For example if you spend six months focused almost exclusively on improving your one-rep max it will go up (assuming you have adequate programming, nutrition, and recovery).  That’s the good news. The bad news is your aerobic capacity as well as your ability to do high volume training will suffer.

So you spend the next six months working on your aerobic capacity.  You’ll definitely make gains there. You’ll also backslide some (but not totally!) in your maximum strength. When you go back to focusing more on strength, you’ll see you’ll gain back what you lost and more, pretty quickly. It’s kind of like taking two steps forward in one capacity and one step back in another. It’s not a perfect analogy but a useful way of thinking about it.

Don’t be afraid to take several weeks or even a few months specializing in one aspect.

Thanks for reading! Any questions or comments, leave ’em below.

Thanksgiving!

I’ll keep it simple: Enjoy the holiday. Enjoy the food. Enjoy time with your family and friends, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Don’t worry about tracking calories or making sure you hit the gym. The whole point of fitness is to make your life better, not to consume your life.

I hope you have a great one!

Come Monday though, it’s time to get back to the mission!image1