Basic Fitness Advice

A few of my friends recently asked for some advice on getting in better shape this year. The goals were the same:

  • Feel better in daily life
  • Lose a little bit of weight
  • Fill out (or not fill out) clothing a little better
  • Do not get hurt

I’m not a fitness expert – my main qualifications are that I’m in decent shape and have taken pretty good care of myself over the last decade of my life. I’m not sure if it is entirely appropriate for me to offer this advice, but I did so anyways and wanted to share it with anyone else who might benefit from it.

Nutrition

Every person’s body is different and I am not a dietitian. As such, my nutrition advice is always very general:

  • Do not buy or eat junk food
  • Cook for yourself at home / try not to go out for food too much
  • Drink a bunch of water throughout the day

My personal diet is full of eggs, oatmeal, ground bison and bison steaks, more eggs, some egg whites, additional eggs, guacamole, and the occasional protein shake. I eat pretty much the same thing every day and that doesn’t bother me, but it does bother other people.

I eat a ton every day but I’m a 210 pound male with a lot of muscle trying to roughly maintain my current weight. If you’re trying to lose weight, eat less. If you’re trying to gain weight, eat a ton and worry about trimming off excess fat later. It isn’t rocket science, but you do need to monitor the way your body changes over the course of a few weeks and adjust as necessary.

Also, eat a cookie (or delicious brownie your wife makes) every once in a while. Tasty food is a great part of life. Just don’t go overboard when indulging.

Exercise

This is directed mostly at “untrained males” because that is who my friends are, but the general principles pretty much apply to anyone new to weightlifting or just getting back into an exercise program.

Buy a speed rope and start every workout with 10 minutes of jumping – start with 15 seconds on, 45 seconds off and then proceed to 30/30 and 45/15 once you feel comfortable with what you’ve been doing. Jumping rope burns a ton of calories in a little bit of time and will get your heart racing for the rest of the workout. There’s usually a cardio/studio room in gyms like this where you can do this. Your muscles should be all warmed up and ready to go after you jump.

Do the following workout 3 days a week (preferably M-W-F or T-Th-Sa):

  1. 3 (sets) x 8 (repetitions) barbell back squat
  2. 3 x 8 barbell deadlift
  3. 3 x 8 barbell bench press
  4. 3 x 8 seated dumbbell military press

You should be doing weight that you are comfortable with but makes it challenging to finish the set. Do not be concerned with what anyone else is doing in terms of weight. You are competing against your own body – not anyone else’s.

Finish up with a 5 minute cooldown on the stationary bike or something else.

Rest 2-3 minutes in between each set. Each exercise is linked to a video that shows exactly how to do it. However, that’s often not enough. If you don’t feel comfortable just going off the videos, my recommendation would be to purchase 3 training sessions with someone at whatever gym you’re joining and tell them you want to do the above (don’t let them sell you anything different) and you want to ensure that you have good form and won’t hurt yourself. You want them to teach you how to do it so you can do it on your own. Make this absolutely clear if you decide to go this route.

These are the major lifts and pretty much all you ever need to do unless you want to achieve some specific look. You’ll likely lose weight and feel better. You’ll see pretty rapid gains in strength and then plateau – that is absolutely normal. Make sure you’re pushing yourself and are slightly uncomfortable as that means you’re doing it right.

The workout, including warmup and cooldown, should take about an hour and will leave you feeling great.

100 Days of Squats, a Retrospective

On June 9th, I finished 100 days of consecutive squatting. I was inspired to take on this challenge by Cory Gregory after an article of his was published in FitnessRX for Men. It promised increased strength, better endurance, and the ability to call yourself a badass and mean it.

I’ve taken the last week or so to really think about what I learned from the program, both about my body and about myself, and to figure out how to share the parts that I think are most important. I’ll get to that later in this post, but I think its important to identify a couple of things first; where I was when I started, and what the workouts that I did over the course of my 100 days actually looked like.

My Starting Condition

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first. I’m 5’10” tall and weigh around 200 pounds. The weight fluctuates from 195-205 depending on how gluttonous I’m feeling in any particular week. I hesitate to give an exact bodyweight percentage, but I’m definitely under 10% and most likely around 8% most of the time.

I’ve been weight training consistently for about eight years now with very little in the way of breaks. My morning routine is essentially:

  1. Wake up
  2. Prepare for workout
  3. Workout really hard
  4. Get on with my day

It has been that way without exception ever since I started to recover from my busted up shoulders in college. My workouts prior to this program were already heavy on squats, with me squatting at least twice a week with many weeks containing three legs days depending on how I was feeling. I love squatting, especially because it doesn’t put stress on my shoulder joints, which are definitely the weakest parts of my body. I tend to squat like a hybrid powerlifter / bodybuilder, with a mix of high-rep and high-weight workouts.

One important note: I lift raw, meaning I don’t use a weightlifting belt, knee wraps, wrist straps, or any other form of assistance. That’s how it has been for about six years now and I love it. I feel like it protects my body because I’m not able to push myself past the threshold of what I am physically able, and gives me a limit to push against as I drive for new performance.

The Workouts

The article that Cory Gregory published was a little light on details of what you were supposed to do from an actual implementation standpoint. He had listed a typical workout that he would do, but the most important part I gained from his writing was to just do some type of squats every day for the 100 days and you’d fulfill the requirements. As a note, he later published a four week squat everyday workout that I know some people have been following that is much more prescriptive. It might be a good place to start.

I always squatted first before working out whatever other body part I was targeting on a specific day. I felt like it got me in the mood to push myself harder with the other work I was going to be doing. In general, the workouts looked like one of the following two options:

High Rep Workout: Pick one of high-bar back, low-bar back, or front squat and do five sets of 12.

High Weight Workout: Pick one of high-bar back, low-bar-back, or front squat and do (back/front) 135/135 x 8, 225/185 x 8, 315/225 x 8, 405 / 315 x 3, 455 / 365 x 1.

There were times during the 100 day program where I didn’t have access to a barbell for some reason or another. On those days, I did 5 sets of 20 bodyweight squats to keep my streak alive. Reasons for being without a barbell include traveling for business (conferences / consulting) or being out of my house and thus away from my gym because of home repairs.

Without exception, I made sure that I did some form of squat workout every day for 100 days. That includes flag football game days where I’d get up before my games, get my squat workout in, and then go play football. Once, I didn’t have time to do it before my games so I had to do my squats after a doubleheader in the middle of the afternoon. That was probably the toughest single day of the 100 days.

My Impressions and Conclusions

If you check out the #squateveryday hashtag on Twitter, you’ll see tons of testimonials from people about how they’re hitting new PRs and really upping their squat game, doing things that they’ve never done before. That’s awesome! Unfortunately, those things didn’t happen for me.

I loved the program, but I was already a 500 pound squatter at sub-200 pounds when I started my 100 days. I’m not an elite strength athlete by any means, but that’s a lot of weight to move around. Without dedicated strength training, there’s very little room to grow from there for someone at my weight and height.

As such, I didn’t expect to get substantially stronger because I structure my training to ensure a good mix between athleticism (to make sure I continue to be good at flag football), strength (for my ego), and physique (for my vanity).

The reason I did this program was to test my mental fortitude. Could I really do something hard for 100 days without breaking? Could I push myself every single day on something that I enjoyed initially but I knew would turn into a slog after a while? Apparently the answer is a resounding YES. I’m proud of myself for completing the program.

Now, I intend to apply the principles to other facets of my life, especially my business. A lot of what makes a business person successful is the ability to continually do the small things that add up over time to make a big difference. Now that I was able to spend 100 days in a row doing something I really enjoy, I’m looking for the equivalent challenge for my business life.

As for squatting, I love it and will continue to do it. I’d like to hit a high-bar back squat of 405 x 8 and a front squat of 405 x 1 (in the same workout) by the end of the year. I don’t have any doubts that I’ll hit those marks as I push towards them consistently.

Squat Fun!

Angela and I had another great workout today. It consisted primarily of lots and lots of squats, and I thought I’d post a sampling of what we did:

Angela Back Squat – 135 x 10

Nick Back Squat – 225 x 20

Nick Front Squat – 275 x 1

Nick Front Squat – 315 x 1

Deadlift Fun!

Angela and I deadlifted today and it was great. We took some videos and I wanted to share them! I need to work on finishing at the top a little bit better, pushing my hips through, but Angela absolutely killed it!

Angela Deadlift – 185 x 6

Nick Deadlift – 225 x 15

Nick Deadlift – 315 x 15

For this one, the first rep got cut off somehow so you only see 14. I swear I did 15, though.

My “Back on Track” Workout

I took about 6 weeks off of lifting weights in the months of July and August. I started lifting again at the beginning of September and it took a few weeks to get my body used to the stresses again. Last week, I finally felt like I used to and decided to ramp up my workouts a little bit. This past week has been a bit of a challenge, but I’m happy with the way things worked out and will be reusing this workout for at least the next 3 weeks.

There’s a few important things to note about my workout:

  • It is a hybrid split-body workout – most days get their own body part
  • I do intense cardio every day but Thursday
  • I don’t lift weights on the weekends
  • I decided on the weights I would use ahead of time so I wasn’t thinking during the workout

I felt like this week went really well. I feel stronger than I did at the beginning of the week and I feel accomplished because of what I did. I think the plan I followed could be used by pretty much anyone (with modifications to the weight based on your strength levels, obviously). Here’s what I did for cardio and on each day:

Cardio

Every day except Thurdsay, I do 15 rounds of jump rope. Each round is 60 seconds of work followed by a 45 second rest period. I jump as fast as I can and try to mix it up by jumping on one foot, jogging while jumping rope, jumping in a staggered stance, etc.

Monday – Shoulders

  • Barbell Overhead Press: 95×8, 115×8, 135×8, 155×8
  • Barbell Upright Row: 95×8, 95×8, 95×8
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 20×12, 20×12, 30×8
  • Barbell Front Raise: 45×12, 45×12, 65×8
  • Shrug: 135×12, 135×12, 185×8

Tuesday – Legs

  • Back Squat: 135×8, 185×8, 225×8, 275×8
  • Front Squat: 95×8, 115×8, 135×8
  • Overhead Squat: 95×8, 95×8, 95×8
  • Romanian Deadlift: 145×8, 145×8, 145×8
  • Good Mornings: 135×8, 135×8, 135×8

Wednesday – Chest and Back

  • Barbell Bench Press: 135×8, 185×8, 205×8, 225×8
  • Dumbbell Chest Flyes: 30×12, 30×12, 30×12
  • Pull Up (strict form): 4 sets to failure (between 8 and 15, usually)
  • Bent Over Barbell Row: 95×12, 95×12, 135×8

Thursday – Olympic-esque

  • Kettlebell Swings: 53×20, 53×20, 53×20, 53×20
  • Hang Clean: 135×8, 135×8, 135×8
  • Hang Snatch: 95×8, 95×8, 95×8
  • Deadlift: 225×8, 225×8, 225×8
  • Lateral Bench Jumps: 20, 20, 20

Friday – Arms

  • Dumbbell Curl: 20×12, 20×12, 30×8
  • Barbell Curl: 95×8, 95×8, 95×8
  • Dumbbell Lying Tricep Extension (Skull Crushers): 30×8, 30×8, 30×8
  • Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks: 20×8, 20×8, 20×8

Recent Lifting

I’ve been doing a variety of weightlifting stuff lately and made a short video showing off some of my strength gains. The video shows me hang cleaning 185×5, hang snatching 135×5, and bench pressing 245×5. Let me know what you think!

Banana Bars

finished bars

I make these bars for Nick and he thinks they are mega delicious, so I figured I’d share the recipe I threw together from multiple banana bread recipes along with some healthy substitutions.

I throw the following in a bowl (why do that whole “mix the dry then the wet and combine them” thing and get multiple bowls dirty?):

  • 1 1/2T stevia (equivalent to 3/4c sugar)
  • 1c oat flour
  • vanilla or unflavored protein (I use 4 packets of Perfect Fit Protein because that’s what I happen to have right now, but you can use any protein of your choice)
  • 3/4t baking powder
  • 1/2t baking soda
  • 1/4t salt
  • 1/2c nuts (about 2oz) – I usually use walnuts
  • 1t vanilla
  • 6T liquid egg whites (about 2 large egg whites)
  • 1/4c no sugar added applesauce
  • 3 medium bananas, mashed
  • 45g unsweetened coconut flakes (about 1/2c) – totally optional

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes in a greased 9×13 dish or baking pan. I use Pam spray for baking. Let it cool before cutting into 12 squares.

Nutrition info for each square is:158.6 calories/6.6g fat/16.9g carbohydrate/8.9g protein/4.5g sugar. (Without the coconut: 131 calories/4g fat/15.9g carbohydrate/8.7g protein/4.4g sugar)

Some notes on my ingredient choices:

stevia

Stevia is a South American herb used as a natural sweetener for centuries. The leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant have a refreshing taste, zero glycemic index, zero calories and zero carbs. It is 25-30 times sweeter than sugar, and far more healthy! (from stevia.com)

oat flour

I make my own oat flour by throwing some whole old fashioned oats into our magic bullet blender and grinding them to a powdery consistency, but you can purchase oat flour in most stores now. Oat flour is gluten free, so these bars don’t rise as much as other baked goods might. Feel free to substitute any other flour, but also keep in mind that other flours may absorb the liquid components of the recipe differently.

coconut walnuts

Almost all of the fats in the recipe come from the walnuts and coconut (if you used it). Walnuts are full of heart healthy monounsaturated fats and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids along with being full of all sorts of good for you stuff. Coconut, on the other hand, is a more controversial ingredient. It has many antioxidants, but is primarily made up of saturated fats which are thought of as “bad” fats. Some recent research suggests that not all saturated fats are equal, and those found in coconut are better than other saturated fats (like butter). Honestly, I’ve just been tossing some into these bars because I had it in the pantry and it tastes delicious.

February 2013 Weightlifting Workout

Angela and I have been enjoying our home workout equipment a lot. We love the fact that all we have to do to get a good workout is walk down to the garage and put in the effort.

For the first four weeks of this year, we eased ourselves into a regular weightlifting program. We chose to do this because we had each taken a bit of time off from weightlifting. Now, we’re ready to ramp things back up and are excited to dial up the effort a bit over the next month. So, if you’re interested, here’s the weightlifting program we’re doing in February (where our workouts differ, Nick’s stuff is listed after the pipe character). We’ll be doing cardio separate from this program.

Monday – Legs

  • Jump Rope (3 x 100 skips)
  • Bodyweight Squat (20)
  • Lunges (3 x 10 each leg)
  • Squats (6 x 10) | Squats (3 x 10), Front Squats (3 x 10)
  • Plie Squats (3 x 10) | Overhead Squats (3 x 10)
  • Kettlebell Swings (3 x 15)
  • Single Leg Kettlebell Deadlift (3 x 12)
  • Romanian Deadlift (3 x 12)
  • Angela Only – Bench Step Ups (3 x 10)

Tuesday – Chest & Triceps

  • Jump Rope (3 x 100 skips)
  • Pushups (100 total) | Wide Pushups (4 x 20), Pushups (4 x 20)
  • Bench Press (3 x 12)
  • Dumbbell Flye (3 x 12)
  • Standing Crossbody Dumbbell Flye (3 x 12)
  • Dips (3 x 8) | Dips (3 x 20)
  • Skullcrushers (3 x 10)
  • Tricep Kickbacks (3 x 12) | Narrow Pushups (4 x 20)

Wednesday – Back & Biceps

  • Jumping Jacks (3 x 25)
  • Chin Ups (4 x 5) | Chin Ups (4 x 10)
  • Deadlifts (4 x 15) | Deadlifts (4 x 10)
  • Reverse Rows (3 x 8) | Pull Ups (3 x 10)
  • Barbell Rows (3 x 10)
  • T-Bar Row (3 x 10)
  • Dumbbell Row (3 x 10)
  • Dumbbell Curl (3 x 10)
  • Dumbbell Concentration Curl (3 x 10)
  • Barbell Curls (3 x 10) – Nick Only

Thursday – Legs

  • Jump Rope (3 x 100 skips)
  • Bodyweight Squat (5 x 20)
  • Lunges (3 x 10)
  • Squats (3 x 12)
  • Plie Squats (3 x 15) | Front Squats (3 x 12)
  • Kettlebell Swings (4 x 15)
  • Single Leg Kettlebell Deadlift (3 x 12)
  • Romanian Deadlift (5 x 10)

Friday – Shoulders & Abs

  • Dynamic Shoulder Stretching Circuit
  • Clean & Press (3 x 12)
  • Dumbbell Press (3 x 10) | Snatches (3 x 10)
  • Dumbbell Arnold Press (3 x 10) Unilateral Kettlebell Shoulder Press (3 x 10)
  • Unilateral Side Lateral Raise (3 x 10) | Dumbbell Arnold Press (3 x 15)
  • Front Lateral Raise (3 x 10) | Unilateral Side Lateral Raise (3 x 10)
  • Crunches (3 x 20) | Front Barbell Raise (3 x 10), Unilateral Kettlebell Upright Row (3 x 10)
  • Hanging Knee Raise (3 x 15) | Crunches (3 x 20)
  • Twisting Sit Ups (3 x 10) | Hanging Knee Raise (3 x 15)
  • Planks (4 x 45 seconds) | Twisting Sit Ups (3 x 10)
  • Side Crunches (3 x 12) | Planks (3 x 45 seconds)

Weekend

Saturday is an active rest day. I just got a new bike, so I’m probably going to want to ride all over the place with Angela. Sunday we are going to do yoga together. Hopefully that will make me more flexible.

Home Gym Awesomeness

In November, Angela and I had finally had enough of the big box gym and the crowds that come with it. We bought an elliptical machine for our living room and decided it was time to purchase some weights and get out of our gym memberships. This decision has turned out to be one of the best things we’ve ever done.

We thought about the types of exercises we like to do, looked around at the various equipment manufacturers and made some decisions about what to purchase. We ended up going with Rogue Fitness because of their reputation, the fact that their equipment is made in the USA and the overall quality of their ordering experience. Here’s what we got (pictures then a list):

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We asked for a custom quote on the equipment and shipping and everything came out to about $2,300. Rogue Fitness was super helpful the entire order – I can’t recommend their stuff enough and they have some pretty awesome promotions going on all the time.

In the end, this change was well worth the investment. We canceled our $80 a month gym membership, don’t have to drive 15 minutes to the gym and back every day, don’t have to put the mileage on the car and (most importantly) don’t have to mess with the assholes who inevitably ended up disturbing our workouts.

I seriously couldn’t be happier and Angela couldn’t either. If you do any weightlifting (and are serious about it) I can’t recommend building a home gym enough. Ours takes up a space about 10′ x 7′ x 9′ (wide x deep x high) and we never feel cramped. Unless you’re hitting the same amount of weight I do, you can probably drop a few of the 45s off of your order and have enough to last you for the rest of your life. From an economic standpoint it is such a huge win (if you use the stuff) and from a piece of mind standpoint I couldn’t be happier.

To show how happy I am, here are some pictures from our latest workout:

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The Hardest Legs Workout I’ve Ever Done

Yesterday, Angela told me she came up with a new legs workout and asked if I wanted to do it with her. I said sure, and we got started.

We headed to the gym and things started out easy enough. We jumped on the elliptical machines to get our heartrates up and get the blood flowing to our limbs. After 30 minutes of that, it was time to start resistance training. Here’s what we did (weights are mine, Angela obviously did different weights):

  • 1 set of 30 leg press with one 45 pound plate on either side as a warmup (90 pounds)
  • 4 sets of 20 unilateral (one leg at a time) leg press with a 45 pound and a 25 pound plate on either side (140 pounds)
  • 4 sets of 20 deep squats with one 45 pound plate on either side (135 pounds including the bar)
  • 4 sets of 20 RDL with two 25 pound plates on either side (145 pounds including the bar – use 25s so you can stretch the glutes and hamstrings more)
  • 4 sets of 20 walking lunges (unweighted – 10 each leg)
  • 3 sets of 20 step ups on a 30″ platform (unweighted – 10 each leg)

We cooled down on the recumbent bike for five minutes so we didn’t go from crazy exercise to nothing immediately. The rest periods were “as long as it takes the other person to do their set” so, on average, probably 40 – 60 seconds.

I’m sitting here at my desk right now, and my legs are sore to the touch. I walked to get coffee a few minutes ago and it was like I was slogging through waist deep snow or something.

I have to give a shout out to Angela for coming up with probably the hardest workout I’ve ever done. By the end of it, we both looked like we had jumped into the pool – my athletic shorts were soaked, which is something I don’t think I’ve seen since I was playing football, running around in 100 degrees in shorts and helmets.