You’re Deadlifting…Right?

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OK, SO YOU’VE DECIDED to be strong, which means being more awesome.  So you’re deadlifting, right?  RIGHT?

The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can do for overall muscular strength–if you’re not incorporating it into your lifting routine you’re doing yourself a disservice.  Deadlifts make the often-neglected posterior chain stronger, and really help strengthen your back, core, and grip.  Seriously, it’s good for almost everything.

75 Ways Deadlifting Just Plain Rocks: funny, true, and will get you pumped about deadlifts.

I admit, I neglected deadlifts (and squats) for years.  Don’t get me wrong; I was deadlifting.  But I wasn’t deadlifting.  I think a lot of that was because I just didn’t have much exposure to the concept during my formative (early high school) lifting time in the gym.  I was always running.  Sprints.  Distance.  Hills.  Stairs. Plyometrics.   My legs were muscular, and I just didn’t have much recovery time built in, so my weight room time was very upper-body oriented.  Years went by where I gave only moderate effort on deadlifting (and squatting), sometimes neglecting them for long stretches at a time.  When I switched my mindset from working out for “looks” and decided to actually get strong, I realized: I gotta deadlift.

So I set out to get good at it.  Did the research.  Read up about it.  Watched videos.  Worked with good trainers.  I’m still not an elite powerlifting-type deadlifter (deadliftee?), but I’ve sure been making some progress.  You should, too.

So, why?

We touched on most of the physical reasons up there, but the bottom line is that the deadlift makes you stronger.  Everywhere.  It puts a huge (good) strain on your central nervous system, basically telling your body “Hey!  We gotta get stronger!  This crap is tough!”  If you’re deadlifting correctly your other lifts will get better.

Deadlifting, to me, is one of the purest feats of strength.  It’s the barbell equivalent of pointing to a distant tree and saying to another person, “Bet I can beat ya to it.”  You’re taking a giant heavy weight that’s sitting there on the ground and just lifting it off the ground.  It’s both daunting and satisfying.  Every time I set a personal record on a deadlift, I’m vanquishing doubt and fear.  When I’m staring at a really heavy (for me) weight, I have to get my mind right and change from “Holy crap that looks heavy; what if I can’t do it and get hurt?” to “I am going to lift this giant weight up right now.”  It builds your mental toughness at least as much as it builds your physical toughness.

So, how?

The deadlift, at its purest essence, is simple.  Pick this weight up.  Put this weight back down.  However, you do not want to mess around, especially at heavier weights, with anything less than perfect form.  Deadlifts are very safe–but if you’re doing them incorrectly they can be very dangerous.

There are lots of resources about how to deadlift properly out there–from people who can lift waaaay more weight than I can, so for an in-depth explanation of form and “how to” check out the writings and videos and tutorials from the big-time guys (and gals).  The basics, however, are fairly straightforward.

  • Set up with the bar over the middle of your feet, with your feet about hip distance apart, toes slightly turned out.
  • Bend your knees slightly until your shins touch the bar.
  • Keep your back straight and sit down and back until your hands are on the bar.  Your hands should be straight down, as they fall naturally, not out to the sides.
  • Keep your weight in your heels, keep your butt down, arch your lower back, and look up.
  • Pull that weight off the ground, dragging the bar up your shins, by pulling your chest up and driving your hips forward.
  • Wear tall socks on deadlift days.  Your shins will thank you.

That’s it in a nutshell–but really, do a lot of studying and get a qualified deadlift coach (likely not a trainer at your local big-box gym) to watch your form.  Take video and compare it to good lifters online.  And get out there and deadlift–and be more awesome!

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I can’t deadlift due to injury or a bad back?

Honestly, you can probably deadlift, or do a modified version of deadlifting (pulling from a rack, sumo deadlift, etc.).  And “my back hurts” isn’t a reason to avoid deadlifting; it’s a reason to do them.  Deadlifts fix a lot of back problems.  Obviously, if a spinal doctor who knows a ton about lifting research tells you not to deadlift, then don’t.  But you can probably deadlift, even if you think you can’t.

Can’t I get strong without deadlifts?

Yes, you can get strong.  Can you get stronger by incorporating deadlifts?  Probably.  Only one way to find out, right?

What if I’m a girl?

Deadlift.  Girls who do deadlifts are awesome, and they look better.

I should use lifting straps and whatever else I think will help, right?

Sure, if they match your purse.  In all seriousness, though, I think deadlifting without gloves, straps, weight belts, etc. is the way to go.  You’ll improve your grip strength and get a killer forearm workout.

Overhand or mixed grip?

I’m a proponent of using an overhand “hook grip”, as it seems to be safer and more well-balanced than having one hand turned in a mixed grip.  My advice for using the hook grip is: yes, it’s going to make your thumbs hurt, but if you squeeze every muscle in your hands hard your thumbs are just taking up some of the excess weight, and it isn’t that bad.  Part of the mental toughness of deadlifts.

That’s it for my take on deadlifting.  So…you’re deadlifting, right?

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Wasting Time at the Gym

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-Come on, old man–get out of the squat rack already!

I hate wasting time at the gym.  Hate it.  I want to get in, get my work done, and get out.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy working out–I do–but I don’t want to spend an extra minute there during the week.  I’ve got other stuff to do.  I don’t take my phone in with me, I don’t screw around with music, and I certainly don’t stand around wasting time by talking to people.  In the end, I don’t really care if other people waste their time, but they at least need to stay out of my way.

I’ve been known to politely (or sometimes less politely) encourage people to move their slow tails out of the way if they’re on a piece of equipment I need to use that day.  I make no apologies.  “Work out, get out” is my motto.

So that’s what I was thinking about as I watched the old man hobbling around by the squat rack–Get out!

Old.  Bald.  Slow.  Big belly.  Creaky joints.  Knee braces.  Looked like it even hurt to walk.

-Get out.

It was squat day for me, and that meant two things: one, I hate squats; and two, someone was going to be wasting time doing something like bicep curls in the squat rack.  Always happens.

See, one of the main problems with most gyms is that they devote 90% of their floor space to cardio gear and pointless weight machines, not free weights, and definitely not squat cages and power racks.  Gyms cater to the person who would rather go in and have other people think they’re working hard, rather than to the person who wants to go in and get underneath a barbell that could crush them to death.  So one squat cage, one power rack. If you’re lucky.

Did I mention I hate squats?  For me, they’re a necessary evil.  You have to do them to get maximally strong, but every time I do them I feel like I might puke, pass out, and pee on myself.  All at once.

Get out, seriously.  I need to squat today.

The old guy tottered over towards the racked weight, like an amateur stop-motion movie.  All jerks and hitches and incongruous lines.

Why does he have so much weight on?  Why do people insist on loading up more than they should, then barely bending their knees at all?  So pointless.  Ugh, do real squats at least.

He got under the bar–the bar that I quickly calculated to weigh over 350 pounds.

-Wait a minute…

U.S. Powerlifting-branded shorts.

-No way.

Squat.  Full-on, below-parallel, perfectly executed squat.  With more weight than I’ll ever even dream of.  Again and again.  And again.  It was like stumbling upon a dirt-crusted hill that you suddenly realize, with growing terror, is actually a sleeping dragon.

It was his warmup set.  He was just getting started–with over 350 pounds.  I decided I could deadlift in the open space next to the squat rack for now.

Ten minutes later, almost done with my deadlifting, I made some casual joke or something to him–I don’t even remember what it was, now.  He chuckled, and said, “Get on that bar again.”  I did, and he had me make a minor adjustment to my form.  I pulled a really heavy deadlift (for me), and it felt great.

We got to talking, standing there in the racks…the thing I hate most from other people.  I didn’t care.  It turned out the creaky old man is a 74 year-old powerlifting champion.  As in, still competes.  He typically qualifies for the national team every year, but had just suffered a loss for the first time in over a decade to his arch-nemesis.  “That s#%* is not happening again”, he grumbled.

We talked for a little while.  About lifting, about good rotator cuff exercises (we both have iffy shoulders), about some random life stuff.  This guy is amazing, I’m thinking in my head.  74 and fiercely competitive and strong.  Wow.  What’s your excuse for not working out?

So he’s training.  He’s squatting over 450.  He’s going to beat that guy.  Hell yes, he’s going to beat that guy.

I looked at my watch and realized I had to get moving.  No time to finish my workout.  No squats.

None of that time in the gym was wasted.

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How to Do A Backflip Anywhere

Beach Backflip

PART OF BEING AWESOME is being able to do things most people can’t.  What’s more awesome than being able to do a backflip anywhere?  Not much.  Right now, you might be thinking: “No way can I ever do a backflip.  Not a chance.  Nope.”  You’re probably wrong. 

I’ve taught tons of people how to do a backflip (or “Standing Back Tuck” or “Back Tuck”)–people ranging from sedentary computer gamers to football linemen.  I’ve seen all kinds of people who can do one: huge Olympic powerlifters, tiny girls, “older” folks, skinny, wide–you name it.  If you have some free time, search around online for videos of people flipping.  You’ll be amazed.

Can anyone do one?  Nah, not every single person on earth.  But a lot more people are capable of doing one than they realize.  Here’s a checklist to figure out if you can or not:

  1. Can you jump straight up into the air at all?  Not even NBA-caliber leaping ability; I mean, can you jump, period?
  2. Are you in at least moderate shape?  If you’ve been losing weight and getting strong, this answer better be “yes.”
  3. Do you think doing one would be Awesome?

If you answered in the affirmative to these questions, odds are you can do one–probably more easily than you’d think.  If you answered any of those questions as “no”, then figure out what you need to do to make that answer turn into a “yes”.  Now let’s get started.

SAFETY

Obviously, learning a skill like a backflip carries a certain element of danger along with it.  I hope it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: landing on your head is no bueno.  That’s Spanish for “ouchie.”  But you shouldn’t be scared of doing one–just progress at a pace that’s comfortable to you, and before long you’ll be snagging pictures of you doing flips in cool places, like Chichen Itza,

Mexico '09 436

or a tropical beach,

Mexico '09 508

or even at a mountain lake next to trashcans capable of withstanding bear attacks.

4th of July '09 129

To learn safely, I recommend finding a qualified instructor near you who has a lot of experience training people on how to flip.  Check out your local gymnastics or cheerleading gyms, or martial arts studios.  Ask around, and let them know what your goals are.  You can probably find a program that will let you hop into an affordable basic class or private instruction.  And seriously, learning one doesn’t take that long–I’ve seen people go from zero to safely flipping in 30 minutes.

That being said, lots and lots of people teach themselves how to flip.  No matter whether you’re getting help or flying solo, here’s how to learn.

Basic Concepts

Things you need to know:

  1. All flips go UP.  People tend to think that because they’re doing a backflip, they need to go backwards.  Nope; if you want to flip your whole body over in the air, you need height more than anything else.  A standing back tuck should land in the same spot it begins.  Practice jumping straight up in the air as high as you can, stretching your body up.
  2. Arms up.  Head still.  It’s a natural instinct to throw your arms and head backwards when you’re trying to flip over.  Don’t do it.  As soon as you stat leaning your body backwards, you stop gaining the height you need.  For real; height is the most important thing here.  You should be reaching up, with your eyes focused somewhere in front of you.  Pick something to look at to ensure you’re not throwing your head backwards during the flip.  Keep your stomach tight to avoid arching your back and losing precious height.  Did I mention you’re trying to get as much height as possible?
  3. Your stomach makes you flip.  Your body will naturally begin to rotate backwards as you swing your arms up during your jump; contracting your stomach muscles and pulling your knees up to your chest will finish the rotation.
  4. Commit!  You absolutely have to fully commit when you start a standing back tuck.  If you go 100% and don’t quite make it, you’ll at least land on your hands and knees–no big deal.  If you bail out halfway, you’ll land on your head.  Repeat after me: “Landing on my head is bad.”  So jump up as high as you can, get your knees up, and stay in your tuck until you’re all the way over.
  5. Land strong.  Combining your height and rotation, landing a back tuck puts about the same amount of stress on your legs as jumping off of a five foot-high box.  Be prepared for this and don’t let your legs collapse.  Stand up with authority as you’re landing, with your legs squeezing together and your muscles tight.

How to Train

If you don’t have much of a background in awesome acrobatic maneuvers, there are a few quick and easy drills you can do to get your body comfortable with the concept of flipping and to train yourself the positions you’ll need.

  1. Get comfortable rolling.  Do forward rolls and backward rolls, down an incline mat or something similar if you need to, until your body is used to being upside down and you gain awareness of what your body is doing in space.  Make sure your rolling is going straight over, not off to the side at all.  Training handstands can also be good to get used to being upside down.
  2. Jump onto stuff.  Find a box, or high bed, or counter, or whatever that is at least a little higher than your hips.  Stand with your back against it, and jump up to a sitting position on top of it.  Keep your arms up and your spine straight.  Add height as you get comfortable.  From there you can roll backwards to a tuck position, making sure your knees are up towards your chest and that you can look down your shins and see your toes.
  3. Grab a bar.  Use a chinup bar that’s up about as high as you can jump straight up and grab.  Once you’ve grabbed it, pull your legs up into a tuck and roll your body backwards (keeping your head from going backwards).  If you want, you can roll all the way through and drop back down to your feet.  This is known as a “skin the cat” on playgrounds everywhere.  Remember to stand up tall as you land.
  4. Hit a tramp.  No, a trampoline, smarty.  Find a good facility and instructor that has a trampoline, and learn to flip there.  Please stay away from backyard trampolines; those things are dangerous.  Get comfortable flipping while bouncing, then start bouncing less and less until you are comfortable with a standing back tuck on a trampoline.  At this point, it’s probably time to do some standing back tucks on the ground.

Flippin’ For Real

You can learn to flip anywhere, but it’s smart to use a surface with a little bit of give, and to have a person qualified to spot you if something goes wrong.  Remember, you’re jumping up, keeping your head from throwing backwards, and using your abs to pull the rest of your body over.  Once you’ve done a few, you should be much more comfortable and should start making great progress.  Before you know it you’ll be flipping wherever you want, which is Awesome.

Video Tutorial

Here’s a quick video I made about flipping on a trampoline and on the ground.

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Awesome Basics: Get Strong


IF YOU’RE LIVING a life of Awesome, you need to be strong.  Awesome people never know when they’ll be called upon to carry a child out of the path of a rampaging elephant at the zoo (or subdue said elephant), lift a helicopter off of a pinned citizen, or wrench open a submarine’s missile room door in order to avert nuclear disaster.

Even more common are the everyday occurrences.  Don’t you want to be able to hoist the box of copy paper off the high shelf?  Or carry in all of the groceries in one trip?  Or chase that grizzly bear out of the office break room again?  And who keeps leaving salmon in the break room, anyway?

You need to be strong.  So how do you get there?

Getting strong is easier than you think.  This guide will teach you the basics for acquiring real, practical strength.  This isn’t a guide to make you into a bodybuilder or a pro athlete, but by following these tips you’ll lay down a foundation of strength from which you can start branching out based upon your needs.

It’s important to realize the goals we’re after here.  “Getting strong” doesn’t necessarily mean “getting tons of muscle”.  It’s very possible to be very strong while not being very large.  If you’re after a lot of muscle, great, but realize that you’ll have to work for it.  This guide is meant to make you strong, regardless of size.

STEP ONE: GET YOUR MIND RIGHT

If you want to get strong, you’re going to need a strong mind in order to maximize your results.  Sure, you can get stronger by halfheartedly chugging along and following the upcoming recommendations, but we’re here to be Awesome.

That means you have to be prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little.  If you’ve never seriously tried to get strong, or tried and given up, or just decided getting strong is too much work, a bit of a mental overhaul is in order.  You’re going to have to work hard.  Deal with it.  But I bet once you figure out what you’re doing, you’ll enjoy the journey.  Getting strong is satisfying in a way that few things in life are.  You get very real, direct feedback  every time you really knuckle down and use your strength.  Henry Rollins explains this masterfully.

So don’t let yourself make excuses–pick a strength goal, however small that may be initially, and get after it.  Is getting strong tough?  Sometimes, yeah.  Most worthwhile things are.  Is getting strong worth it?  Absolutely.

STEP TWO: MOVE HEAVY STUFF AROUND

If you want to get strong, the bottom line is that you’re going to have to move some heavy stuff around.  No, heavier.  If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry–there are lots and lots of ways to move heavy stuff around and get stronger.  Find what works for you.

One of the greatest things about the journey to getting strong is that there are so many ways to do it.  You don’t even need to set foot inside a gym and lift weights if you don’t want to.  As long as you are committed to a program, you’ll get stronger.  Period.

Lots of people out there have already done the research and put the work in developing programs that absolutely make you stronger (Starting Strength, Stronglifts, You Are Your Own Gym, Convict Conditioning, Crossfit, Raising the Bar, just to name a few), so don’t try to reinvent the wheel.  Find a program that sounds good for you and then do exactly what it says for at least six months.  If you’re just starting out on your quest to get strong, now’s not the time to tinker around or make stuff up.  That comes later.  Seriously, put a reminder in your calendar for six months (or more) after you start some sort of organized progressive strength program, and evaluate where you are after that.  Maybe you’ll have different strength goals at that point, but the importance of following a program when starting out cannot be overemphasized.  It gives you structure and takes a lot of the burden for staying motivated or having to be creative off of your shoulders.  If you do well with other people around to keep you accountable, use a program that includes a group environment or a personal trainer.  If you’re good at staying self-motivated, pick a program that you can do solo.  But follow the program.

On a related note, keep track of things.  People have a tendency to inaccurately remember the past once things change, so take the time to document your strength gains.  Keep a journal of how much weight you can move, or how many times you can perform a movement.  Take pictures of yourself periodically.  Track your weight (although the scale is my absolute least favorite way to monitor progress).  Just make sure that you have an accurate system for tracking your progress.  This is important for those times when you don’t feel like you’re getting stronger–you can look back and see how far you’ve come.  It’s also important because it will identify your weaknesses and focus your training further down the line.  Keep track.  For real.

STEP THREE: NUTRITION

Much like losing weight, gaining strength is fueled by your nutrition.  Can you get stronger while eating like crap?  Sure, to a point.  You won’t maximize your strength potential until you’re eating properly, though.

Just like strength programs, commercial nutrition programs abound.  However, my recommendation for nutrition for getting strong is the same as my recommendation for losing weight: eat real, whole, non-processed foods.  Veggies, meats, some fruits and nuts, good fats, dairy if you tolerate it.  Stay away from grains and sugars; you want food that provides nutrients.  Again, find what works for you.  If you’re trying to add some more muscle or weight, eat more.  Possibly a lot more.

That’s how to get strong in a nutshell.  This basic guide will get you well on your way to having Awesome strength.  Take that first step.  Figure the rest out later.

FAQ

I hear the same questions and comments over and over from people who want to get strong but may not know where to start, so let’s tackle the most common ones right now.

“I’m a girl (or guy) who doesn’t want to get big and bulky like some bodybuilder.  Shouldn’t I just stick with some light weights and jogging?”

No.  Move heavy stuff around.  Getting big and bulky is hard for the vast majority of people.  People who get 70’s huge are usually trying very hard to do so, training long hours and eating at a very large caloric surplus.  And if you’re female, the odds are you’re not genetically capable of getting “bulky” just from lifting weights alone.  Seriously, lift some weights.  You’ll look better.  Besides, it’s not like you’re going to pick up a barbell and instantly look like Arnold.  Adding muscle takes time–if you notice you’re putting on more than you would like, adjust your workouts accordingly.

“I want to get strong, but I don’t want to shell out all that money on a gym membership.  Besides, gyms are intimidating and full of meatheads.”

So don’t.  You don’t need to go to a gym to get strong.  You can work out anywhere.  Look into bodyweight or at-home programs that use little to no equipment.  You’ll get plenty strong that way.  As far as gyms being intimidating and full of meatheads, don’t worry about it.  For the most part, the “meathead mentality” is fading in most gyms I’ve been in; there seems to be more of a shift in the last couple of years towards just being healthier in general.  If you go to a gym, remember that you’re there for you, not for other people.  Get your work done, get out.

“What supplements should I be taking?  There are so many.”

To start out with, probably none.  If you have your nutrition down, you probably don’t need any supplements.  I take a multivitamin a few days a week, and very occasionally have some whey protein (like one scoop every few weeks, only when it’s much more convenient than eating something right then), but unless you’re looking for extraordinary performance gains (think competitive bodybuilding) you’ll be fine with just eating.  Also, drink enough water.  You’ll get strong.

“Getting strong is too much work.  I’m too busy.  I just don’t have the time.”

Don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s bullcrap.  If you make getting strong a priority, you’ll find the time.  And “the time” is much less than you might think.  Can you spend hours and hours every week working out?  Sure, if you’d like.  I used to do targeted, focused exercise for more than 15 hours per week.  I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been, though, and I spend 3-4 hours in the gym per week.  I just make sure that when I go I’m (1) efficient, and (2) intense.  You can get strong with even less time than I spend; there are tons of workouts that take 10-15 minutes and are very effective.  Don’t say you don’t have time.  That’s just an excuse, and Awesome people don’t make excuses.

“I seriously have no idea what I’m doing, or how to start.  And I’m just not athletic enough to get strong.”

Just start.  Research a strength program.  Find a personal trainer.  Have a friend who knows things help you.  I don’t care if you’re a grandmother who’s never exercised in your life, you can get strong.  You’ll learn as you go.  Take the first steps and make adjustments from there as you learn more.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about working out when I was 20, and now, way too many years later, I’m still learning all the time.

Now get out there and get strong!

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Awesome Basics: Lose Weight

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LET’S FACE IT, lots of people out there are being held back from reaching their Awesomeness Potential due to their excess weight.  Can you still be awesome while being excessively overweight?  Of course!  Just ask Chris Farley.  Well–I mean–you can’t…ask…oh, this got awkward quickly.  Oh dear.

But how many of you out there have struggled with your weight?  Been disappointed when you saw a photograph someone took of you?  Missed an opportunity to do something intense with your kids or friends?  Felt out of place in social interactions?

Maybe you could drop a few pounds.  Maybe your health is in danger.  Maybe you’re worried that you’ll never get where you want to be, size-wise.  Maybe it’s time to figure out what really works–what lifestyle changes you can make, and stick with, rather than yo-yoing or crash dieting.

STEP ONE: MINDSET

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You’re not going to change until you’re ready to change.  Period.  You see this all the time with smokers, drinkers, addicts, procrastinators…you get the idea.  It’s time for some introspection: are you willing to do whatever it takes, even if it pushes you out of your comfort zone?  Are you more determined to be healthy, or to be remain comfortable where you are?  If you’re not ready, fine.  You can take steps to lose weight, but you might not ultimately be as successful as you’d like to be.  Perhaps you need an “Aha!” moment–a doctor telling you it’s now or never.  Realizing you can’t make it up the stairs while carrying your child.  Seeing someone you love deteriorate from weight-related health problems.

“Jeez, Anthony, I thought you were supposed to be helping me out here.  This is awfully doom-and-gloom…”

No way!  I just won’t lie to you.  And you shouldn’t lie to yourself.  Losing weight can be hard.  When you’ve turned the corner, when you’ve adjusted your mindset, it’s gonna be way, way easier.  Will you struggle sometimes?  Yeah, of course–welcome to Life.  But will you succeed with the right mindset?  YES.  So get there.  Find your mindset, even if it means making meager goals to start.  But get there.

Are you ready?  Good.  Saddle up.

STEP TWO: NUTRITION

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That’s right: nutrition.  Not diet.  I don’t like the word “diet”.  I think it’s an important distinction–nutrition fuels your body the right way; diet implies that you’re restricting yourself from things you may need.  Also, when I say “lose weight”, we all realize I mean “lose fat”, right?  No one really wants to lose muscle, do they?

I’ve coached competitive gymnastics teams for a long time.  Even if you don’t know a thing about the sport, with any thought you’ll realize that in order to be successful a gymnast needs to have a great strength-to-weight ratio.  Put simply, the sport gets exponentially more difficult if you’re trying to move excess weight around in complex and intense movements.  Over the years, I’ve had athletes who clearly needed to get their weight down in order to achieve more.  But you know what I’ve never, ever told an adolescent girl?  That she needs to go on a diet.  That’s a recipe for disaster, an eating disorder.  In those situations, we talk about nutrition, and here’s how I usually break it down, since I like simple:

“Look, you’re a high-level athlete.  If you look around your friends at school, most of them are cars.  Not even awesome cars like Ferraris or sweet ’66 Corvette Stingrays.  Just plain old cars.  But you?  You’re a fighter jet.  With missiles and everything.  Now, a car can run on regular gas just fine.  It’ll get from point A to point B with pretty much anything out of the pump.  But you know what happens if you put regular gas in a fighter jet…or don’t put enough fuel in it?  It crashes.  Fireballs.  Explosions.  Fighter jets need fuel, and usually a lot of it.  But it’s high-quality fuel.  It’s the same with your body.”

I’m saying be a fighter jet.

“Ok, so what do I eat here?  Jet fuel?  Right…”

Well…yeah, nutritionally speaking.  Here’s the deal: there are, at last count, 4,239,753 “diets” out there.  Shakes.  Low fat.  Beach Warrior, Life Blaster, Juice Monster, Ultimate Cookie, Miami Spinach Mimosa…you know the drill.  Do any of them work?  Sure, most anything can make you lose weight, at least for a little while.  If you want to permanently (and affordably) get or stay lean, you’re way better off eating good, whole, natural foods instead of processed junk, bottom line.  Natural foods keep you full longer, provide you with the vitamins and minerals that are essential for health, and don’t make you fat.

We’ll go over the best nutrition plans out there in a different article (this is the Basics section, after all), but start with this: Eat vegetables, meats, eggs, some fruits and nuts, a little dairy if you tolerate it well, and good fats like olive oil and coconut oil.  Eat when you’re hungry (actually hungry, not just bored), stop when you’re not.  And cut back on those grains and sugars.  Seriously.

STEP THREE: EXERCISE

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“Wait, exercise comes AFTER mindset and nutrition?  Shouldn’t it be first?”

Nope.  It’s hard to outwork bad nutrition.  Can you do it?  Sure, mostly, if you hate having a life.  Look, I love exercising, and always have.  I lift weights regularly, hike a lot, and will do almost any fun physical activity without hesitation.  But if you’re relying on exercise to make you thin, you’re doing it wrong.  Think about it: if you go pound along on a treadmill for an hour, you’ll probably burn a few hundred calories–about the same as a candy bar.  A small candy bar.  Not even a king-sized one.  Eating properly will get you most of the way to where you should be; exercising will take you the last little bit.

Just like diet plans, there are bucketfuls of exercise plans out there.  The key to exercise is to find something you either A) love to do, or B) can tolerate doing often enough to be consistent.  Obviously, option A is going to be easier, but find what works.  Some people do well with regimented training–keeping charts of weights lifted, logging distances and times, going to regularly scheduled group or individual training sessions.  Some people don’t like having set schedules and would rather go for an impromptu walk or hike, or play some sports with friends, or crank out some pushups in random places.  Whatever suits you, just do something, especially if you’re starting out.

Again, this is the Basics, so we’ll get into all kinds of exercise advice in other articles, but here’s a good general guide: every week do a good amount of low-level moving around of some sort, a smaller amount of faster moving around, and a decent amount of moving some heavy things (or your body) around.  Walk, run, lift, if you want only three words to remember.  Find what works for you in these categories.

SUM IT UP

In a nutshell, you can lose fat by starting out with this guide.  First, get your mind right.  Decide that you’re going to change, even if it might be hard sometimes.  Second, eat clean.  Third, move around.  Once you see some progress, we’ll start dialing you in better in all three categories.  You’ll get there.

Because you are awesome.

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