I’ve seen the need for education and encouragement in the realm of life physical fitness in the software development community for a long time. When I first started programming, the typical stereotype of a software developer was a nerdy, skinny guy with thick-rimmed glasses and a pencil protector. Today, the stereotypes seem to have changed, but for the worse. Now, many people think of software developers as fat guys with a beard going down to their neck, wearing a stained white cotton t-shirt while eating pizza.
Obviously, both of these stereotypes are wrong—there are plenty of software developers, male and female, who don’t fit either of those molds—but the second stereotype scares me more than the first because in a way I think that some developers start to think that they’re supposed to fix it.
The goal of this blog is to give you a basic education on fitness and to encourage you to break out of the mold and realize that just because you’re a software developer doesn’t mean that you can’t be healthy and perhaps even dashingly handsome or, if you’re a female, strikingly beautiful. You can get in shape, you can be healthy, but it all starts with education and the belief that it’s possible.
You might also wonder what makes me qualified to write about diet, nutrition, and physical fitness. I don’t have any degree in nutrition, I’m not even a certified personal trainer, but what I do have is an experience. I’ve been learning about fitness and diet since I was 16 years old. I entered my first bodybuilding competition when I was 18.
I’ve also coached and helped many other people, including software developers, to get in shape, lose weight, gain muscle, and reach other fitness goals. While I’m not an expert, my knowledge in this area is fairly wide and it’s tempered with experience.
Why you need to hack your health
Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.—John F. Kennedy
How can I motivate you to get in shape? Let me see.… How about that you’ll live longer because heart disease is the number one killer in the world, followed by stroke? How about that exercise has actually been shown to make you more creative and boost your mind? Vain? I’ve got answers there as well. Who doesn’t want to be more physically attractive— I know I certainly do. Lifting weights and losing some fat can make you more attractive and give you more options for extending your…legacy.
And, let’s face it, most software developers spend quite a bit of time at a desk, sitting down all day. As software developers, we stand to benefit greatly from learning how to get fit and healthy, because our jobs tend to push us in the other direction.
Getting fit can make you a better software developer. Here’s why.
I’m not going to start by trying to appeal to your actual desire to be healthy. We all want to be healthy, and most of us have at least some idea of what we need to do to become more healthy, but we still pick up that slice of pepperoni pizza or make the late night Taco Bell run. Being healthy, by itself, isn’t a strong enough motivator to get into shape—at least, not until your life is directly jeopardized, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Instead, I’m going to start off by focusing on one of the most important benefits of healthy eating and exercise: confidence. You might think confidence isn’t that important, or perhaps you say “Hey, I’ve already got confidence, bro.” But whether you already see yourself as having some extra to spare or you don’t see why it’s so important, I’ll tell you why you’re going to want to have it and have as much of it as you can get.
A study performed by researchers at the University of California Berkley’s Haas School of Business showed that confidence was a better predictor of success than talent. There have been other studies that show a similar correlation.
But how can be fit gain your confidence? Simple: getting in shape helps you to feel good about yourself and the fact that you can accomplish the goals you set out to accomplish. That self-confidence carries outward and is projected in your conversations and interactions with others. Also, for a less scientific explanation: when you look good, you feel good.
Imagine how good you’ll feel when you’re fitting into those skinny jeans or popping the threads on the arms of your shirt. Feeling fit, feeling like you’re healthy, changes the way you act. It changes how you view yourself and how threatened you feel around others and by their accomplishments, and it changes the way others see you and feel about you as well.
Much of this blog is about going out and doing things that require some degree of confidence. It’s difficult to conjure confidence by thinking about it, but almost every person I’ve ever trained in the weight room or helped to lose some pounds has suddenly found a confidence they didn’t know they had.
Is it really true that exercise can make you smarter? Well, I’m not sure about smarter, but a recent study at Stanford University showed that walking was able to substantially increase creativity—by about 60%. In the study, Dr. Oppezzo asked a bunch of students to complete some creativity tests. The tests involved coming up with uses for objects and other activities that could be attributed to creativity.
Students first sat at a desk and completed the tests, and then they were asked to do similar tests while walking on a treadmill. Almost all students showed a large increase in creativity. Even when the test was performed with students walking and then sitting down, the results still showed an increase.
What does this mean? It means that walking has a significant effect on at least one function of your brain—creative power—but I suspect that it also affects quite a bit more.
I can tell you from personal experience that the more I exercise and the healthier I am, the better I seem to perform at my work. I notice that I’m considerably better at focusing and being productive when I’m at my best physically. For my “Get Up and CODE” podcast, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing guests like John Papa, Miguel Castro, and other well-known developers who’ve reported similar experiences.
I can’t say for sure whether the actual exercise or body-fat percentage of my body causes chemical or structural changes in my brain that make me smarter or more focused, or whether I just feel better and therefore work harder, but does it really matter which it is?
If you’re always feeling tired and unmotivated to work or you just don’t feel like you’re performing at your peak, you might find that a change of diet and exercise can renew both your body and your mind.
I didn’t want to pull the fear card right away, but I think it’s still important to mention that if you’re overweight and generally unhealthy, you’re putting yourself at a considerable risk for all kinds of preventable diseases.
I run a podcast about fitness for developers called “Get Up and CODE”, and on that podcast, I’ve interviewed many developers who eventually got in shape, not because they wanted to be more confident and increase their brain power, but because they felt like they were knocking on death’s door.
In particular, I remember talking to Miguel Carrasco about his journey to fitness. He was a software developer who never paid much attention to his weight or his health until one day he had a really bad scare that put him in the hospital and forever changed his life.
He was driving his son home from daycare and all of the sudden his left hand started feeling numb. He figured maybe it was just cold outside or he had banged it on something, so he ignored it.
Later that evening, he went to lie down to take a little nap—which was strange for him, because he almost always stayed up late. His wife questioned him about his odd behavior and he said that his whole left side of his body felt really numb. His wife convinced him to rush to the hospital—fearing he had had a stroke.
When he got to the hospital, he found out his blood pressure was 190/ 140—which isn’t good, not good at all.
It turned out he was okay. It wasn’t a big deal. They performed some tests on him and let him go the next day, but monitored him and administered more tests over the next month. But that experience scared the heck out of him and forever changed his mindset.
I clearly remember Miguel telling me that it wasn’t a workout program, a special diet, or going to the gym that caused him to lose the 73 pounds he lost in 180 days, but rather a state of mind. The scare caused him to take his health and fitness seriously, so much so that he quit his career as a software developer and became a fitness coach, motivating and helping other people to reach their fitness goals.
I don’t tell you this story to scare you—okay, actually I do—but I hope that I can scare you through Miguel’s story rather than through your own, when it may be too late. Miguel was lucky because his scare wasn’t a big deal. His scare was a warning that kicked him into gear. But many people aren’t so lucky. Sometimes you don’t get a warning. Sometimes you drop dead of a heart attack or are seriously harmed in another way before you take things seriously. Sometimes it’s too late.
Don’t let it be too late for you. Get serious now. Don’t wait until you have a health problem to start caring about your health. I know you might not have bought this blog with the primary motivation of getting healthy, but seriously, if I help you get a better job or career, that’s great and I’m happy for you, but if I can also help you to get in shape so you can be around a little longer to see your kids grow up, then I’ll count this blog to be a much bigger success.
Before we get any further into this section, make a commitment to your health. Maybe you’re already healthy and the following blogs are just review for you, but if you know that you need to get healthy, make a commitment to take your health seriously and to make a real change in your life. I can give you all the fitness and health advice I know, but if you aren’t committed to change, it won’t matter a bit.
Setting your fitness criteria
Regardless of your fitness goals, you’ll never achieve them if you don’t have them. Just like you have to know what the code you’re writing is supposed to do, you need to know what kind of end result you want to achieve by all that sweat and starvation; otherwise, you’ll just be wasting your time.
In this blog, we’ll talk about how to set realistic and achievable goals for your fitness journey. We’ll look at utilizing both short-term and long-term goals to achieve better results, and how long-term changes only occur through committing to a healthy lifestyle—not crash diets and four-hour cardio sessions.
As a software developer, prone to sitting at your desk for long periods of time and sometimes working crazy hours, it’s especially essential that you define some explicit criteria for getting healthy, because it might be more difficult for you to live a generally healthy lifestyle—the odds will likely be against you.
Picking a specific goal
It’s common to hear someone talk about starting a fitness routine or a diet with the goal of “getting in shape.” While that may seem like a fine goal, it’s not specific. After all, what does it really mean to be “in shape,” and how do you know when you’re in shape?
It’s not that exercising and eating right without a specific goal won’t still give you good results, whether you have a specific result in mind or not, but that not having a specific goal will make it much less likely that you’ll stick with any program and see any real changes.
There are quite a few different goals you can pick for your fitness endeavors. Don’t try and pick more than one at a time. If you want to lose weight, focus on losing weight, not on gaining muscle. If you want to improve your cardiovascular health by running, focus on that goal, even though you might drop some pounds in the process.
It’s very difficult to achieve multiple fitness goals at the same time because they’re often in direct conflict with each other. For instance, it’s difficult to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, because you typically need to be in a calorie surplus to gain muscle and in a calorie deficit to lose fat.
POSSIBLE FITNESS GOALS
Lose weight (fat) Gain muscle
Increase strength (not necessarily the same as gaining muscle) Increase muscular endurance (for sports performance)
Improve cardiovascular health Become better at some sport
About six years ago, I tore my right pectoral (chest) muscle. I was doing some heavy dumbbell bench presses when someone offered to spot me. I accepted the spot, but immediately regretted it when the spotter tried to help me by pulling my arm outward instead of up. I remember distinctly hearing a popping sound as my limp arm fell to my side—the muscle was completely torn away from the bone. Ouch.
Needless to say, I wasn’t lifting weight for a long time after that incident. I lost quite a bit of motivation because I now couldn’t even lift the bench-press bar, so I did what some would do in that situation—I stopped exercising and got fat.
At one point I weighed in at about 290 pounds. This was about 90 pounds over what I should have weighed—I’m 6 foot 3 inches tall. When I finally came to my senses and decided I had had enough of self-loathing and being fat, I realized I needed to lose about 90 pounds.
Losing 90 pounds seemed to be an impossible goal. How was the heck I going to lose 90 pounds and get back in shape? How long was it going to take? I realized that I wasn’t ever going to feel motivated to lose 90 pounds, so I had to figure out how to make that huge task seem much smaller.
I came up with an idea. I’d make a small goal of losing 5 pounds every two weeks. I wouldn’t worry about losing 90 pounds, even though that was my overall goal; instead, I’d focus on two-week periods at a time. All I had to do was get on the scale and be 5 pounds lighter than I was two weeks ago—that’s it.
It took a lot of two-week periods, but I eventually lost the full 90 pounds I set out to lose—and even a bit more. I never missed my goal even once along the way. The key was breaking my big goal into smaller milestones that marked my way to success.
Once you’ve decided what your primary fitness goal is, you should figure out how you can create a series of milestones that you’ll reach along the way to your final destination. If you’re trying to lose weight, you might decide on a certain amount of weight you want to lose every week or two weeks—like I did. If you’re trying to gain muscle, perhaps your milestones will be based around gaining a certain amount of lean weight on a similar interval.
Just make sure the milestones are achievable. If you set out trying to lose 10 pounds a week, you’re going to get discouraged quickly when you don’t come even close to hitting that number. It’s better to commit to a less ambitious milestone that you can easily achieve than one that will be nearly impossible for you to reach. The momentum of success can help carry you forward and increase your motivation to reach your overall goal.
Landmine: What if you don’t have time?
As a software developer, you might have a hectic schedule and you might even travel quite a bit, so how do you find time for diet and exercise and to pursue your fitness goals? There’s no easy answer for this, but my best advice is to make it a priority. I used to create meeting requests specifically on my calendar for things like going for a run or lifting weights. If you’re having trouble sticking with a plan, I’d advise you to do the same. No one has to know your 7:00 a.m. meeting is actually a run.
Measuring your progress
As you work toward your goal, it’s very important to have a good way to measure your progress. You need to know, at regular intervals, whether or not you’re heading in the right direction.
Think about the best way you can measure your progress toward the goal you’re trying to achieve. If you’re trying to lose or gain weight, one basic measurement is a scale. If you’re trying to gain strength or muscle, you might chart your progress by recording how much weight you can lift and how many times you can lift that weight.
I try to avoid too many measurements, though; otherwise, I can easily get overwhelmed. I usually try to pick one main measurement that I use to chart my progress and throw in some other measurements at longer intervals of time.
Perhaps the most common measurement is your weight on a scale. But you should be a little cautious with this measurement because your body weight can fluctuate by a large amount from day to day depending on what you eat and how much water weight you’re carrying at any given time.
I’d recommend weighing yourself every day, but only using a weekly measurement to actually chart your progress. I’ve seen my weight fluctuate by as much as 10 pounds in a single day. If you measure your weight once a week, instead of once a day, you’re less likely to be thrown off by the big swings your body can go through from day to day.
Living a healthy lifestyle
Hitting a fitness goal can be a great feeling at first, but that great feeling can quickly deteriorate into hopelessness, depression, and eventually regression. Trust me; I’ve blown it plenty of times in my life after achieving a big fitness goal. In fact, many dieters who lose weight eventually gain it back, partially due to hormones that make them hungrier but also because they revert back to their old habits.
After reaching your fitness goal, your battle isn’t over. You can quickly lose the progress you made if you don’t change your actual lifestyle. You can’t live on a diet forever, so you have to find a way to live your life in a way that will maintain the level of fitness you worked so hard to achieve.
I’d recommend that after you reach any fitness goal you slowly taper off of the diet or program you’ve been on, rather than switching to “normal living.” The goal is to make “normal living” somewhere in-between what you were doing to achieve your goal and what you were doing before that. Binge eating after losing 50 pounds will send you on the fast track to gain it right back, and perhaps more.
You have to figure out how to incorporate healthy habits into your life so that regular exercise and a healthy diet are normal parts of your life. It’s not easy to do, especially if you do an extreme diet or fitness program, so even though you may lose weight a lot faster by starving yourself, you might want to try to incorporate a diet and exercise program that will only be slightly stricter than what you could do perpetually.
In the next few blogs, I’ll give you some tools that will help you do that. We’ll talk about how to figure out how many calories your body needs to maintain its weight, how to eat healthily, and how to exercise. With that information, you can learn to achieve your fitness goals, but more importantly, you can learn how to create a healthy lifestyle based on a routine you can continue for the rest of your life.
Identify one big fitness goal and write it down.
Next list a series of realistic milestones to achieve that goal. Identify one action you can take to reach your first milestones.
Thermodynamics, calories, and you
If you want to lose or gain weight, you need to have an understanding of what exactly makes you pack on pounds or melt them off. Surprisingly, there’s a huge debate in the fitness industry over whether or not the amount of your weight gain or loss is directly a factor of how many calories you eat versus how many calories you burn.
It seems like it would be a pretty easy thing to settle—I mean, to some degree we know that calories are responsible for changes in weight—but the debate about how much of an effect calories have isn’t something that can be settled so easily.
I can’t promise you an absolute, smoking-gun answer in this blog, but I can give you some solid reasons why I tend to subscribe to the viewpoint that calories are the most important factor in gaining and losing weight. I’ll also help you to understand what calories are and how to determine how many of them you burn in a day.
What is a calorie?
One of the first things we need to address before you can understand exactly how calories affect your weight, is what they are. What exactly are calories and why do we care about them so much?
A calorie is basically a measurement of energy. To be specific, a calorie is the amount of heat necessary to raise one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.
The food that you eat is the primary source of energy for your body. That’s why it’s measured in terms of calories. We also measure the amount of energy we expand in terms of calories as well.
For the most part, you can assume that all the calories that enter your body are either used or stored. Some calories go to waste, but human bodies are very efficient machines.
Different foods provide your body with different numbers of calories— and not just based on quantity. The same amount of broccoli will provide much fewer calories than an equivalently sized slab of butter.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats each provide a different number of calories per gram, so some foods are denser than others. Carbohydrates and proteins provide approximately four calories per gram and fats provide approximately nine calories per gram. And remember, because we can’t digest fiber, calories that come from fiber sources can basically be discounted.
Losing weight is simple
If calories represent energy and your body can only get energy from food, then it’s easy to figure out how to lose weight—just eat fewer calories than you burn. I don’t think anyone will disagree that you’ll ultimately lose weight if you eat fewer calories than you burn—the debate is over accurately calculating how many calories you actually burn.
The good news is that even though you can’t know for sure how many calories you burn or consume in a day, you can make some pretty good guesses. And if you allow for a reasonable margin of error, you can almost guarantee weight loss or weight gain. The key is making a good guess.
Making a good guess starts with knowing how many calories you need to expend to lose some fat—I’m assuming you’re interested in losing fat and not muscle. A pound of fat is worth, energy-wise, approximately 3,500 calories. If you want to lose a pound of fat, you have to burn about 3,500 more calories than you eat. Pretty simple. (By the way, this applies to both men and women.)
Only it’s not quite that simple. Unfortunately, you don’t just lose fat when you lose weight. It’s true that if you have a deficit of 3,500 calories you’ll lose weight, only not all of it will be fat, some of it will be muscle.
If you want to lose weight, you need to make sure that the calories you’re consuming are fewer than the calories you’re burning. The amount of calorie deficit you have will determine how much weight you lose. That means that if you want to lose weight, you need to know two things: how many calories you’re consuming and how many calories you’re burning.
How many calories are you consuming?
Calculating how many calories you’re consuming isn’t all that difficult. Most of the food we buy has a label that tells us how many calories per serving the food contains. For the foods that don’t have a label, you can use an application like CalorieKing to look up the amount of calories a particular food has.
Unfortunately, food labels aren’t always 100% accurate. You should plan for a 10% margin of error on packaged food labels. If you eat at a restaurant, you should expect a much higher margin of error—you can’t trust a chef to measure everything perfectly. Adding a little more butter to a dish could increase the total calories by a large amount.
Also, the more complex the food you eat, the more difficult it is to accurately measure the calorie count. That’s why I try to eat fairly simple foods when I’m dieting. I also try to eat the same foods frequently so that I don’t have to keep looking up calorie counts.
How many calories are you burning?
Calculating how many calories you burn is a little more difficult, but you can get a good estimate.
Whether you’re running a race or sleeping on the couch, your body burns calories. Your body requires a certain amount of fuel just to keep you alive. This base amount of calories is called your base metabolic rate, or BMR.
You can calculate your approximate BMR by a combination of your weight, height, age, and sex. This calculation will tell you how many calories you’ll burn just to stay alive, so it’s a good starting point in calculating how many calories you burn in a day—you know you at least burn that much.
To calculate your BMR easily, you can use an online tool: search for a BMR calculator. For example, I am 6 feet 3 inches, I weigh about 235 pounds, and I’m 34 years old, so my BMR is about 2,251 calories per day.
Now, most of us don’t just sit around doing nothing all day, so the BMR isn’t exactly an accurate measurement of how many calories you burn. To get a more accurate estimate, you can use the Harris Benedict Equation shown in table 58.1 to calculate your approximate calorie burn based on activity levels.
Table Harris Benedict Equation
Little to no exercise BMR * 1.2
Light exercise (1–3 days per week) BMR * 1.375
Moderate exercise (3–5 days per week) BMR * 1.55
Heavy exercise (6–7 days per week) BMR * 1.725
Very heavy exercise (twice per day) BMR * 1.9
I run three times a week and lift weight three times a week, so by using the Harris-Benedict Equation, I can figure that my daily calorie burn is 2,251 * 1.725 = 3,882 calories. But if I’m trying to lose weight, I drop myself one category lower to be on the safe side. A conservative estimate of my calories burned would be 2,251 * 1.55 = 3,489 calories.
Plug in your stats to figure out how many calories you burn each day.
Before you do it, though, take a guess and see how close you come.
Utilizing calories to achieve your goal
Okay, so now you know how calories work and how to calculate how many calories you consume and approximately how many you burn. You can use this information to come up with a basic plan for losing or gaining weight.
Suppose I wanted to lose weight. Let’s say I had a goal of losing about a pound a week. Using what you know now, how could I create a fitness and diet program that would allow me to reach my goals?
Well, first I’d want to start with the calories I burn each day. If I don’t change my routine at all, I’ll burn about 3,500 calories each day. If I don’t eat anything all day, I’ll lose a pound—I’ll also is very grumpy.
If I want to lose a pound a week, that means I need a total deficit for that week of about 3,500 calories. If we take 3,500 and divide it by 7, we get 500. I need a calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day.
If I’m burning 3,500 calories each day, I can eat a max of 2,500 calories and I should be at a calorie deficit of about 500 calories. In theory, this will work, but in reality, I might not see the results I expect.
A variety of reasons could cause me to not actually lose one pound a week, even though the numbers show I should. I could measure my food wrong and be off by about 100 calories at each meal, which could make my calorie count 300 calories higher than I expected. I could also not work out quite a much as I estimated, which could bring my calorie burn down—although I’ve already compensated for that a bit.
What I might actually want to do is reduce the calories I eat by about 10% or 250 calories, just to make sure that I’m going to meet my goal. That would mean that I’d try to eat around 2,250 calories a day and I could be pretty confident of hitting my goal.
You can apply the same steps to create a plan for yourself for losing or gaining weight. Be careful, though, because as you start to lose weight your BMR will drop, so you’ll need to eventually reduce your calories further or increase your activity to keep losing weight.
Track the calories you eat for at least three days. This will give you a good idea of your basic calorie consumption. Before you do it, take a guess and see how close you actually end up.
Calculate your BMR and use the Harris Benedict Equation to calculate approximately how many calories you burn each day. Compare that number with how many calories you eat. Are you on course to lose or gain weight?
Utilize this information to come up with a basic plan, as far as calories and activity are concerned, for either losing or gaining weight.
Motivation: Getting your butt out of the chair
The hardest part of reaching any fitness goal isn’t actually setting the goal, knowing how to achieve it, or even doing the work required to get there. The hardest part of reaching any fitness goal is getting and keeping the motivation to do it.
As a software developer, you’re probably busy. You’ve got broken builds to worry about any bugs that need to be fixed. It seems like there’s always some reason to put off working out and starting that diet until later. The only problem is that “later” never comes.
If you want to be successful with losing weight, becoming the buffest computer programmer in existence, or just getting healthy, you’ll need to learn how to motivate yourself and stay motivated. This blog is all about what it takes to actually stop thinking about your fitness plan, put it into action, and stick with it.
What motivates you?
We’re all motivated by different things. What motivates you might not motivate me and vice versa. It’s important to take some time to think about what kinds of things motivate you the most. What is it that makes you want to wake up and start your day? Conversely, what is it that makes you want to run away and hide?
If you can find one primary motivating factor in achieving your fitness goals, you can use that motivator to help get you out of your chair and start moving. If I asked you to go to the store to pick up something, you might not be that motivated to do it. But if I asked you to go to the store to pick up $1,000, you might be in your car and on your way before I could finish asking you. The right motivator can make a big difference.
Rewarding yourself too early
If you want to kill your motivation, make the mistake of rewarding yourself for a job well done before the job is…well…done.
Just last week, I did some work for a client that paid me up front. They paid me for about 24 hours’ worth of work before I had actually done the work. Normally, I’d be motivated to get 24 hours’ worth of billable time from a single client in a week, but this time, I wasn’t motivated at all. Why?
It was because I already had the big, fat check in my bank account. I received the reward before I actually did the work, so I wasn’t as motivated to do the work.
The same thing can happen to you. I see it all the time. It’s common to buy a nice, expensive pair of running shoes or a brand-new treadmill to motivate you to start your new workout program. But while you might think that getting that new $400 blender is going to motivate you to eat healthily, the opposite happens. You already got the reward, so the motivation is gone. You can actually demotivate yourself by giving yourself the reward before you earn it.
Instead, try telling yourself that once you’ve been running consistently for three months, you’ll reward yourself by getting a new treadmill and some running shoes. Tell yourself that if you can eat healthy for a whole week, you’ll get to go on a shopping trip to Whole Foods and buy a bunch of healthy groceries. Always try to make it so that you have to earn a reward and you’ll be much more motivated to reach your goals.
There’s actually some scientific evidence to back up this viewpoint. For an interesting read on willpower, check out The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. In this blog, the author cites several studies that show that rewarding yourself before reaching a goal can make you feel like you already achieved the goal.
Even though you might have already come up with a great motivator to get you started on becoming a new, healthier you, that motivator may eventually lose its effectiveness—in fact, I know it will. I’ve lost my own motivation more times than I can count, and if you talk to anyone who has started and quit a diet, you’ll probably find the same problem. You’ll need to figure out some other ways to hack your motivation.
One good way to stay motivated is to post pictures all over the place that serve as reminders of what you want to look like. Those pictures can help keep you on track and focused on your goals. The next time you’re looking at a piece of chocolate cake, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be staring you in the face saying “Are you going to eat at cheek, you weenie?”
It can also help to chart your progress and constantly remind yourself how far you’ve come. Tonight I didn’t feel like writing any more blog. Sometimes just knowing that you’ve already traveled very far down a road is enough motivation to keep traveling down that road. Everyone hates to break a long winning streak.
Another powerful motivation technique is gamification. The idea behind gamification is simple: take something you don’t like to do and make a game out of it. There are actually quite a few fitness applications that help you to gamify your workouts and healthy habits.
Habit RPG: Habitica - Gamify Your Life
It can also help to get a lifting or running partner, or even to start a new diet program or challenge with a friend. Having someone to talk to and share your experiences with, good and bad, can make the journey seem more enjoyable and keep you motivated. I’ve always found that I’m more consistent in making it to the gym when I have a lifting partner.
Just get it done!
It’s great if you can keep yourself motivated, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and stick with the plan, motivated or not. Try to make decisions ahead of time that commit you to a course of action that you want to take.
When you wake up in the morning and are feeling tired, it isn’t a good time to decide whether or not you want to run. When you’re at the office presented with free doughnuts, it isn’t a great time to decide whether or not you want to stick to your diet. It can help to decide ahead of time that no matter how you feel, you’re going to stay the course until some predetermined date in the future.
Try to remove judgment as much as possible from your life by planning things out far in advance. Know exactly what you’re supposed to eat and do each day and you’ll be less likely to make bad decisions and won’t have to rely as much on motivation.
Utilize principles in place of motivation when your motivation runs out. When I’m tired and don’t feel like finishing my run, sometimes I have to remind myself that one principle I highly value is that of finishing strong. Create a set of maxims to live your life by and stick to them when things get tough.
MAXIMS TO LIVE BY
Always finish strong.
Winners never quit and quitters never win. No pain, no gain.
Time is short if you want to do something in life, do it now. This too shall pass.
A consistent process produces success.
Come up with a list of reasons why you want to get in shape or improve your health. From that list, identify the three biggest motivators. Print out those three motivators and put them in several places where you can see them every day.
Pick a few motivation ideas mentioned in this blog and incorporate them in your life. Perhaps try to find pictures of people who motivate you and post them where you can see them, or find a new fitness app that makes working out fun.
Pick a reward to give yourself after you reach a certain milestone in your fitness journey. Chart your progress to the goal, and when you reach it, reward yourself.
When tempted to break your stride, stop and ask yourself how you'll feel in three months, next year, and so on if you don’t give up. That time is coming either way.
How to gain muscle: Nerds can have bulging biceps
Pssst! Hey, you. Yeah, you—over there. Do ya wanna gain some muscle? Well, do ya? Good. I can help—no illegal substances required. You just need to learn the basics of resistance training.
In this blog, we’ll talk about how to build muscle. It’s not that hard as long as you’re willing to put in the work. We’ll cover what causes muscle growth and learn how you can stimulate muscle growth in your own body. We’ll also go back to diet a bit and discuss what kinds of foods you should eat to maximize your “gains.”
As a nerd—err … computer professional—having muscles can be a big advantage. Not only will you look and feel better, but you’ll be able to break out of the stereotype given to many of our profession and that uniqueness might even help your career.
If you’re female—look, I know that you don’t want to look huge. I agree it’s not very attractive for a woman to look like the Incredible Hulk—but don’t worry, lifting heavy weights isn’t going to make you huge unless you have a bunch of extra testosterone to go with it.
Whether you’re male or female, everything in this blog section applies to you. Men and women don’t need to lift weights differently. If you’re a woman, lifting heavy weights will accentuate your figure and improve your physique. It’s very, very difficult to get to the point where you look huge— you don’t have the chemical hormones to do it. So, don’t worry, lift heavy—and don’t forget the squats!
How muscles grow
The human body is amazingly adaptable. If you grab rough things with your hands, they’ll grow callouses to protect them. If you run long distances, your cardiovascular system will adapt to make it easier. If you lift heavy weights, your body will grow bigger muscles.
The trick is that your body is also very efficient—it doesn’t grow muscle just because you want to look buff. You can stand in the mirror all day wishing you looked like Hercules, but if you don’t actually lift heavy weight, nothing will happen.
If you do lift weights, but the weights aren’t heavy enough—if they don’t provide enough of a challenge to your body—your muscles will have no reason to grow, so they won’t. The key is to progressively overload your muscles by increasing the amount of work you ask them to perform as they grow in response. You basically have to convince your body that you need bigger muscles before it will create them.
Growing in size is just one of the ways your muscles can adapt to being overloaded with work. Your muscles can also increase in strength and endurance. If you want to optimize your muscle growth—the size of your muscles—you have to give your muscles the proper kinds of stress.
Getting started with weightlifting can be a little intimidating. There are all kinds of different exercises and it can be difficult to know what you’re supposed to do. Fortunately, the basics are pretty easy.
First, we need to talk about some of the terms involved in lifting weights. When you lift the weight, you usually break up the workout into different exercises. For each exercise, you do a number of sets, and for each set, you do a number of repetitions or reps.
The definition of an exercise is pretty obvious, so we won’t waste time talking about that. A set is basically one continuous session of performing an exercise. Reps are each one full cycle of the exercise.
Typically, you’ll do a certain number of reps of an exercise and then take a rest. You’ll call that a set. For each exercise, you’ll do a certain number of sets. Let’s look at an example.
Suppose you were going to do a common lift called a squat, which is basically where you go from a standing position to a squatting position. Your goal might be to do 3 sets of squats of 10 reps each. That would mean that you would do 10 squats, then take a rest, and you’d repeat that three times.
Remember how I said that your muscles can adapt in different ways? How your muscles adapt will be primarily determined by how you lift. Now that you know what reps and sets are, we can talk about how you can utilize reps and sets to achieve different goals with weight training.
If you do a small number of reps with a fairly high rest period between sets, you’ll primarily cause your muscles to adapt by growing stronger. Naturally, muscles that grow stronger will also grow bigger, but the same-sized muscle can vary greatly in strength. Just because you’re getting stronger, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting bigger—or at least not as big as you can with other training methods.
Typically, if gaining strength is your goal, you’ll want to have reps that are in the one to six range. But limiting the reps isn’t enough. You’ll want to lift as the heaviest weights you can for that rep range. The idea is that if you’re targeting four reps, you physically can’t do five with the weight you’re lifting.
The next goal you might have—perhaps the most common one—is muscle size. Muscle size growth is known as hypertrophy. Muscle size is primarily achieved by medium rep ranges with moderate rest times in between. To achieve maximum muscle size, you want to try to hit rep ranges between about 8 and 12. Again, this means that you lift the heaviest weight you can for that many reps. At the higher rep ranges, you’ll feel quite a bit of burn before you actually hit muscle failure. As they say, no pain, no gain.
Finally, you might be interested in increasing your muscular endurance. I’m pretty sure you can guess how to do that—increase the reps even further. If you train with very high reps and fairly short rest periods, you’ll maximize your growth in terms of muscular endurance. That means that your body will adapt to be able to not tire out so easily when under a load.
To achieve muscular endurance increase, you want to have rep ranges above 12. You might do 20 reps or more to increase your muscular endurance. But be warned: if you focus on muscular endurance, you won’t see much of an increase in size—you might even see a decrease. Consider the difference between sprinters and long-distance runners to get an idea of how this works.
Okay, so now you might be wondering what kinds of lifts you should actually do and how to get started. The good news is it isn’t as complicated as many fitness magazines and fitness gurus make it out to be. There are some basic lifts you can do that will get you the maximum benefit in the least amount of time.
Let’s start by talking about how you might split up your routine in a week. I’m a big fan of a three-day workout routine, but you can adapt the basic plan I’m going to give you to exercise more frequently if you wish.
When you initially start out, you’ll probably want to do lifts that target your whole body, but eventually, you’ll need to split things up so that you work certain body parts on certain days. (You need to increase the volume of the work you do so that your body continues to adapt.)
I divide exercises into three categories: push, pull, and legs. Push exercises are exercises where you’re pushing the weight away from you. These exercises usually use your chest (pectorals), shoulders (delts), and triceps. Pull exercises are exercises where you’re pulling the weight toward you. These exercises usually use your back and biceps. Finally, leg exercises work…well…your legs, of course.
Starting out, you might want to do push, pull, and leg all in the same day. Just do one exercise per body part—we’ll get to what exercises in a bit. You’ll be very sore the first time you lift weights. The soreness, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), will come the next day and usually last around a week—don’t worry, though; it gets better and less frequent if you stick with it.
Once you’ve been doing full-body workouts for about two to three weeks, you can progress to splitting up your workouts to either a two-day split of upper body and lower body or a three-day split of push, pull, and legs.
What lifts should you do?
Okay, so now that you have a basic plan and know how to reach your goals, you need to know what kinds of lifts you should do. In this section, I’m going to give you suggestions for what I think are some of the best all-around exercises you can do for each body part. I’m not going to go into the details of how to do each exercise here, but you can find pictures, videos, and full descriptions at one of my favorite internet sites for fitness, Bodybuilding.com - Huge Online Supplement Store & Fitness Community!.
The general strategy for picking good exercises is that you want to do as many compound movements as possible. Compound movements are lifts that involve multiple joints. The more joints involved, the more muscles involved, so the bigger the bang for your buck. Many of the exercises I recommend here work different muscles but have one primary muscle group that they work the most.
You’ll also probably want to start with a low number of sets, perhaps just 1 or 2, and then eventually work up to about 3–5 per exercise. In general, I try to make a workout have about 20–25 sets total. That should take about an hour. More than that isn’t necessarily beneficial.
Best all-around exercises
There are more exercises you can do and variations of these, but these are the staples that I add to almost any routine I create for myself or someone else. You can pick some of the best ones from these exercises.
Bench press—This is one of the core chest exercises. Learn how to perform this exercise correctly. You can also do this exercise in an inclined or declined position to target different parts of the muscle.
Dumbbell flys—Another great chest exercise that can really help you to add size to your chest.
Overhead triceps extensions—I prefer to do these seated. I find them to be one of the best triceps exercises overall. They work the whole triceps and can really help you get bigger arms.
Cable pushdowns—With this exercise, you don’t work as much of the triceps, but it targets the outer head of the triceps, so it can give you that nice horseshoe look.
Military press—If you do this lift standing, it will work your abdominals as well. Just be careful with this one. You want to start with light weights and learn to do the exercise properly. Overall, this is one of the best shoulder exercises and a very good compound movement.
Side lateral raises—With this exercise you hit the sides of your shoulders, which is a difficult area to grow. Even though this isn’t a compound movement, I highly recommend it.
One-armed dumbbell rows—This is a pretty painful exercise—at least for me—but it will grow your back like nothing else. Do one arm at a time for maximum effect.
Pull-ups—A staple for working your back and building big lats—you know, the sides of your back that give you that v-taper and make it look like you have wings. If you can’t do any pull-ups, look for a machine that assists you until you can do them on your own.
Alternating dumbbell curls—This is one of the best biceps exercises, and really the only one you need if you’re doing other back exercises because biceps get worked by any back exercise. Just try not to swing your body and cheat, which is easy to do on this one.
Squats—Oh, baby. This is the king of lifts. Nothing feels better than getting through your squats. This exercise activates almost all the muscles in your legs and even works your core. Learn how to do this exercise right and don’t avoid it.
Deadlifts—This is another good exercise, but it’s somewhat difficult to learn. Take it easy and work your way up with the weights. This exercise works your whole body to some degree, but it’s also very taxing. I recommend not going above five reps on this exercise. Definitely take the time to learn how to do it correctly, though, because it can really mess up your lower back if you don’t. This exercise works your hamstrings and your lower back primarily.
Calf raises—It’s not that important how you do your calf exercises, but make sure you do some variation of these. You’ll look weird if you have a huge body with tiny calves.
If you had to choose only a few exercises to do, here’s what I would recommend, in order of value: squats, deadlifts, bench press, and military press. If you just do those exercises, you’ll definitely see growth.
What about the abdominals? Well, it turns out you don’t need to worry about working those directly as long as you’re doing the core lifts I mentioned in the sidebar. Squats, deadlifts, and military presses (standing) work your core as you try to stabilize yourself to do the exercises.
Make sure you look up how to do each exercise and learn how to do them correctly. Always start with light weights and work your way up.
What to eat
You can do a great job lifting weights and still not see any gains if you don’t eat properly. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to do. You just need to make sure you’re eating a surplus of calories and that you’re getting enough protein.
I recommend eating 1–1.5 grams of protein each day for each lean pound of your weight. If you weigh 200 pounds and you have a body fat percentage of around 20%, you’ll have about 160 pounds of lean mass, so you should eat a minimum of about 160 grams of protein to make sure you eat enough to gain muscle mass.
Try to eat healthy foods so that a majority of the calories you eat go toward building muscle and not gaining fat, but you should know that gaining fat is inevitable. When you gain muscle, you also gain some fat with it—that’s just how it is.
As far as supplements go, you don’t need any. It can be helpful to have a protein shake right after your workout. You also can try out creatine if you like. It’s one of the only supplements I’ve ever found to actually be effective. It can help you lift a little more weight and can make your muscles look fuller.
Finally, you can take some BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) to help make sure you have enough BCAAs to build and repair muscle. But, again, you don’t need any of these things, and everything else is almost certainly a rip-off.
Go get a gym membership and set up a personal lifting plan for yourself. If you feel intimidated, invest in hiring a personal trainer for a few weeks to get you started. But do something now. Don’t wait.
If there’s ever one fitness question that everyone seems wants to know the answer to, it’s “How do I get six-pack abs?” Abs seem to be the quintessential indicator of physical fitness and overall physical attractiveness. Having abs makes you part of a special club not subject to the normal laws of human interaction.
But how does one get abs? How does one transcend to that higher plane of physical fitness—the one reserved for swimsuit models, Hollywood celebrities, and ancient Roman statues? It’s not easy, but the answer, surprisingly, has little to do with sit-ups or crunches.
In this blog, I’ll pull back the curtain, roll up the shirt, and tell you exactly how to get that washboard stomach you’ve been dreaming of.
Abs are made in the kitchen
I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is you can stop doing those stomach crunches and grueling midsection workouts— they aren’t working anyway. The bad news is that to get abs, you’ll have to do something infinitely more difficult—you’ll have to have the discipline to drop your body fat to a very low percentage.
Most people think you get abs by repeatedly working your ab muscles. While it’s true that just like any other muscle, you can increase the size of your abs by working them with progressive resistance, most people don’t have abs not because their abs aren’t big enough, but because they can’t see them.
You can do all the sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts, and other ab exercises you want and never see your abs if you don’t significantly drop your body fat. Most people who lift weights have wonderful abs even without doing any direct ab training—I almost never work my abs directly. The problem is that the abdominal region, especially for men, is one of the main areas of fat deposits in the body.
Unless you’re genetically gifted and happen to not store much fat in your midsection, you probably will need to have a very low body fat overall to even begin to see your abdominal muscles. Even if that weren’t the case, from what we know about weight training, you can probably guess that crunches and sit-ups mainly build up muscular endurance in your midsection, because the resistance isn’t enough to produce muscular hypertrophy.
If you want to get six-pack abs, your journey begins in the kitchen. We’ve already discussed quite a bit about how to lose weight, but there’s a big difference in what you need to do to lose weight when you’re 10, 20, or more pounds overweight and what you need to do to lose fat when you’re already in pretty good shape.
Before you can even think about getting abs, you’ll need to reach a point where you’re already in good shape. If you follow the advice in the previous blogs, it won’t be that difficult to do—it just takes time. But once you reach an average level of body fat, getting lower is going to require some strict discipline and probably quite a bit of sacrifice.
Your body doesn’t want you to have abs
When we look at a picture of a fitness model with stunningly visible abs, we think “Hey, that person looks great.” Our bodies, on the other hand, think about it a little differently. If your body had a mind of its own and could speak for itself, its reaction might be quite a bit different than yours. Your body would probably look at the same picture and say “Eek! That person is dying. He is starving to death. Why isn’t his body saving him?”
You have to understand that your body is a very complex machine that doesn’t care whether or not you look good in a swimsuit. Its chief concern is centered on the goal of keeping you alive. To your body, washboard abs are a serious problem. Washboard abs indicate that you’re a few weeks away from starvation and death. You might be quite confident that you’re going to have plenty of food to eat tomorrow, but your body prefers to be prepared for long-term disasters. That’s why it stores fat. It wants to save it for a rainy day—just in case.
As a result of this selfish goal of keeping you alive, your body does all kinds of subversive things to halt your fat loss. Anytime you lose fat, you lose some muscle as well—it can’t be helped—but when you’re already at a low body-fat percentage, your body, in an evil plan to thwart your attempts to kill it, cranks up the muscle cannibalism to a higher degree. Your body basically throws more muscle on the fire to burn as calories to preserve its precious fat stores.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Muscle requires a certain amount of calories every day to maintain it. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so if you’re short on calories and it seems like you’re trying to kill yourself by starvation, your body kills two birds with one stone by utilizing your muscles for calories, thus getting some extra energy and reducing your overall energy requirements.
Not only does your body subvert your swimsuit-body transformation attempts by getting rid of your muscle, it also does some other nasty things like increase your amount of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry, and decrease your amount of leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full. Basically, the more fat you lose, the hungrier you get and the more difficult it is for you to feel full.
I won’t go into all the details here, but I think you probably get the point. Once you get below a certain threshold of body fat, your body starts kicking in all kinds of extra defenses in a crazy attempt to keep you alive.
What can you do about it?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet. Professional bodybuilders who get to extremely low body-fat percentages do it mostly by taking steroids and other drugs that you probably don’t want to mess with, as they can be quite harmful and dangerous. In fact, if you’re curious about some of the extreme cutting agents that some professional body-builders and fitness models use to get “cut,” do a quick Google search on DNP.
This extremely toxic chemical basically shuts down your mitochondria, halting that ATP cycle you learned about in grade school, and turns your whole body into a toxic furnace. (Disclaimer time: don’t mess with DNP, anabolic steroids, or any other illegal substance to lose fat or gain muscle—it isn’t worth it and you could die.)
But what about average, normal Joe who doesn’t want to shut down his mitochondria? For you, the answer lies in being strict with your diet and sticking it out for a long time. If you want to drop your body fat low enough to see your abs, you’ll need to carefully calculate your calories and make sure that you aren’t losing weight too quickly or too slowly. It will take some discipline forged from Bethlehem steel to do it—especially with the increased hunger—but it can be done.
Not only will you need to dial in your diet and pretty much forgo any cheat meals, but you’ll also need to make sure you’re lifting weights as if you’re actually trying to gain muscle. You can reduce the cannibalization of your existing muscle to a decent degree while losing weight if you continue to do heavy weight training, which can be difficult to do on a restricted-calorie diet. By continuing to lift heavy, you’ll signal to your body that you still need to keep that muscle around.
You may also try what’s known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) training to lose fat. HITT is cardio that’s done in very short, intense bursts—think running sprints up a hill or running as fast as you can for a minute or two at a time. This kind of cardio has been shown to burn fat while preserving lean tissue better than regular cardio sessions like running for long distances.
Overall, though, it’s going to take a lot of discipline if you want washboard abs. You’ve literally got to fight your body in a battle to the death.
Search around on the internet and find pictures of people at various levels of body-fat percentages. See if you can figure out what body-fat percentage you'll need to be at to have visible six-pack abs. This number will differ greatly for men and women.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to lose weight or you want to improve your cardiovascular health, running is something you might be interested in. I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I’ll be honest with you. I hate running. I’ve tried to like it. I’ve told myself that I’m having fun while I’m counting down the time I have left on the treadmill or glancing at my phone to find out how many miles I have left, but the truth is, I just don’t like it.
Regardless, I do it anyway. I regularly run about three miles, three days a week—and I’ve been doing it for about five years. Even though I don’t like it, now that I do it regularly, it has become a routine. But getting started wasn’t easy. If you’ve never run before, you can’t just head out your door and go for a three-mile jog. Well, maybe you can, but when I first started running, I couldn’t even run a block.
In this blog, we’ll talk about why you might want to get started with a running program, how running might affect your body, and how you can get started doing it.
Why you might want to run
You’ll have to excuse me if my viewpoint is a bit jaded because I don’t actually like to run, but even with my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about running, I can’t ignore its many benefits. Obviously, I run for some reason besides torturing myself, right?
One of the biggest reasons why I run and why many people do is for cardiovascular health. Obviously, running isn’t the only way to strengthen your heart and to increase your lung capacity—any form of exercise will do—but it’s one of the easiest. It’s pretty easy to get out there and run, no matter where you are.
Along the same line, running also provides a good way to burn some extra calories. Running alone isn’t going to make you lose weight— most of your weight loss efforts should be focused on calorie restriction—but it can make an impact. Running has been shown to suppress appetite, so if you get hungry and go for a run instead, you can get a double whammy in getting closer to your weight-loss goals.
While I don’t actually usually enjoy running while I’m running, I do feel pretty good afterward. I find, and several studies back me up on this, that running makes you happier in general. Running is a good natural cure for mild depression and can make you feel better overall about yourself. If you’ve ever heard of runners’ high, then you probably know that running can also actually lift your mood in a chemical way as well, although I usually don’t run long enough to experience that effect— perhaps why I don’t like running.
There are a bunch of other benefits, like strengthening your knees and other joints, increasing bone mass, reducing cancer risks, and potentially increasing your lifespan.
Getting started running
If you’ve never done any kind of distance running before, the idea of running for several miles can seem impossible. But almost anyone can get to the point where they can run a fairly long distance—even a marathon.
The key to being able to run long distances is using a schedule where you’re increasing the amount you run over time. There are some standard marathon training schedules that can take you from barely being able to run three miles to running a full 26.2-mile marathon in about 30 weeks.
But before you can even begin to think about running a marathon, you need to get to the point where you can run three miles, or about five kilometers. That’s a good starting point, and once you reach that point, you can enter many different 5K races and decide if you want to train for something more ambitious.
When I started out running again—after a several-year hiatus—I used a running program that has become popular lately, called Couch-to-5K. The original Couch-to-5K program was created by a running group called Cool Running
The idea of the program is simple: you gradually increase the amount you run week by week. You start off by walking and running for just a short time and end up running a full 5K by the end of the program (although the increase isn’t always so gradual).
The great thing about this program is that it’s designed for someone who doesn’t have any experience running and might not be in good physical shape. The program takes about two months to complete. For the program, you do a 20- to 30-minute running session three times a week.
When I did the program, I was able to find a mobile application that made everything extremely easy. The app kept track of where I was in the program and told me when to run and when to walk.
Advice for getting started
When you get started running, the most important thing is commitment. You can start doing the Couch-to-5K program and never actually make any progress if you don’t consistently run three times a week. If you don’t consistently run, you’ll make backward progress instead of forwards progress. It takes time to build your endurance and it doesn’t take much time to lose it.
Also, don’t worry too much about progress when you’re first starting out. You’ll probably have to start by mixing running and walking together for the first few weeks—there’s a reason the Couch-to-5K program advocates that approach. Over time, you’ll eventually increase the amount you can run and you’ll reach your goals. You have to be persistent and patient. If you push it too hard, too early, you’re likely to become discouraged and not continue.
If you’re interested in starting running, download the Couch-to-5K app and plan out the days you’ll run each week on your calendar. Make a commitment to complete the program. You might get someone else to start the program with you. Having someone else do the program at the same time can help you be accountable and make it more fun.
Standing desks and other hacks
As a software developer, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably interested in any shortcuts or hacks that can help you reach your fitness goals faster or with less effort. I’m always trying to come up with a way that I can enhance my results and reduce my effort.
Over the years, I’ve come up with quite a few tricks I utilize in my daily routine that make losing weight, gaining muscle, and keeping up with my fitness goals a little easier. As an added bonus, most of these tricks will help you improve your overall health, because most of us spend way too much time sitting front of a computer all day. In this blog, I’m going to share some of those tips and tricks with you.
Standing desks and treadmills
Have you ever thought that if you could just walk on a treadmill while doing your work you could burn so many extra calories? I have; in fact, I decided to give it an actual go. Right now, I happen to be sitting at my desk, but I have a treadmill just a few steps away with a shelf on it that can hold my laptop.
During the day, I’ll often spend an hour or two walking on the treadmill at a very low speed while I’m working. By doing this, I’m able to burn quite a few extra calories each day with very little added effort. I keep the speed on the treadmill low enough so that I can easily walk and type or move my mouse at the same time.
Originally I planned on utilizing the treadmill desk all day while I worked, but it turns out that isn’t very practical. While it isn’t a huge amount of effort to work while walking slowly on the treadmill, it’s some effort, and it isn’t as convenient as sitting at my desk—especially with my big monitors.
I figured out that I could actually burn quite a few extra calories by slowly increasing the incline of the treadmill. Because the pace was the same, it was still easy to type and use the mouse or trackpad, but I was burning many more calories. I also could compact my time down to about an hour or so a day.
Landmine: What if you don’t work from home?
Of course, to be able to do this you need to either work from home or have a very flexible working environment. For many, an easier alternative is a standing desk. A standing desk doesn’t offer quite the same calorie-burning benefits of a treadmill desk, but you do burn considerably more calories standing up most of the day.
Plus, as an added bonus, apparently standing is much better for your health than sitting. There have been numerous studies that have shown that sitting for prolonged periods of time can be extremely harmful to your health.
Also, as an added bonus, if you do the Pomodoro technique like I do, you can take the five-minute break to do some stretching, pushups, pull-ups, or another exercise.
One of the most difficult things about getting into shape is dealing with food. Eating healthily normally requires quite a bit of cooking and preparing meals in advance. It’s much easier to go out to a restaurant than it is to cook your own food, but if you want to be healthy, you have to do a large degree of cooking for yourself.
I’m always trying to find ways to make it easier for me to eat healthily, so I’ve developed quite a few food hacks that I find useful.
Eggs in the microwave
The first “hack” I have for eating involves eggs. Eggs are an excellent food to eat, because they are high in protein and you can control the total calories and fat by adjusting how many whole eggs you eat versus egg whites. The only problem with eggs is that separating egg whites from yolks and cooking eggs is a big pain.
I’ve figured out a way to make things much simpler, though. First, instead of buying whole eggs, you can buy eggs substitute, which is basically just eggs whites. You can buy this in cartons at the grocery store. Although the egg substitute has to be refrigerated, it’s a great way to get an almost pure protein source that’s pretty convenient.
But what about cooking it? Well, I’ve found that I can actually cook eggs and egg whites pretty good in a microwave. At first I was skeptical about doing this, but it turns out that once you get good at microwaving eggs, you can get to a point where you can barely distinguish them from eggs cooked in a pan—as long as you’re okay with scrambled eggs.
Most days, the first meal I have is microwaved eggs with frozen spinach. I’ll first take some frozen spinach and put it into a microwavable container. Then I’ll heat that in the microwave for a couple of minutes until it’s thawed. Next, I’ll pour in the egg substitute, real eggs, or a combination of both. (I find adding at least one real egg tends to make things taste a bit better.) Finally, I’ll microwave the eggs for a minute or two, mix them around, and then microwave them again until they are a decent level of firmness.
My final step is to add some cheddar cheese or salsa to the eggs. I’ll use low-fat cheddar cheese if I want to keep the calories down. I can make this meal in less than 10 minutes, and it’s portable because it doesn’t involve many ingredients. The spinach makes a great filler that adds quite a bit to the eggs, so I’m not as hungry—plus, spinach is pretty good for you as well.
Most of my hacks are based on trying to get a lot of protein without having to do much cooking, because I’m usually either trying to gain muscle or preserve muscle when losing weight, and both of those cases require a high-protein diet.
Plain nonfat Greek yogurt
My next food hack is to utilize plain, nonfat Greek yogurt as another highly portable, no-cooking-required protein source. I’ve found that the plain, nonfat Greek yogurt that you can find at most grocery stores is an almost pure protein with very little calories.
The only problem is it doesn’t exactly taste great. The flavored Greek yogurts taste fine, but they’re full of sugar, so they aren’t healthy at all. But don’t worry; I have a solution for you.
It turns out that if you put a little lemon juice, vanilla extract, or other low-calorie flavoring and add a little bit of calorie-free artificial sweetener—my favorite is Truvia—you have a pretty good–tasting yogurt that’s extremely high in protein and low in calories. You can even add your own fresh fruit or frozen fruit if you like. Adding a little bit of fruit will add quite a bit of flavor, but very few calories.
For a quick, tasty, and healthy meal, I’ll just pop a couple of frozen chicken pieces in the microwave and I’ll be ready to eat in minutes. While freshly cooked chicken might be slightly healthier, the convenience of this precooked chicken saves me from instances where I might be tempted to run out and get fast food. Plus, it tastes great.
Along the same lines, I’ve also been able to find frozen turkey meatballs. I got the idea for this food item when I read about Ryan Reynolds eating mostly turkey meatballs when he was getting in shape for one of his roles. It seemed like a good idea, so I looked into it and it turns out that turkey meatballs offer a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
You can find turkey meatballs at most grocery stores. They are extremely convenient as you can pop a few in the microwave and be ready to eat in a few minutes.
Tech gear for fitness:
This blog section is all about the tech gear that can help you achieve your fitness goals or just make your journey a lot more fun.
Step counters and pedometers
There are many different kinds of wearable step counters and pedometers available today, but perhaps one of the most popular—especially in the developed world—is the Fitbit. There are many different kinds of Fitbit models available, but basically, Fitbit tracks the number of steps you take in a day. You can automatically sync your Fitbit with your phone and have instant access to your data.
If you don’t already have a Fitbit or a similar device from one of Fitbit’s competitors, I’d strongly suggest getting one. They’re fairly cheap, but the insight they can give you into your daily activities is priceless. I’d recommend getting one of the models that take a watch battery and lasts several months on that single battery because I found that when I was regularly wearing a Fitbit the biggest hassle for me was remembering to charge it.
One exciting area of technology for fitness that isn’t even close to mature yet is the combo devices that are slowly being introduced. These combo devices can measure multiple data points through various sensors and give you quite a bit of information about yourself.
Having all this data available to you can help you to optimize your workout and know much more about how what you’re doing is affecting your body. I can’t wait to get my hands on an actual Angel device to try it out.
Google and Apple are also heavily invested in this area. At the time of writing this blog, Apple is rumored to be making a smartwatch that will most likely have an array of sensors related to fitness and health. And Google has created a special version of the Android operating system designed to be run on smartwatches. I predict that in the future we’ll eventually have smartwatches that will be able to give us all kinds of data about how many steps we take in a day, what our heart rate is, and anything else that can be measured.
Another device that I’m really excited about is PUSH. I also had the opportunity to interview the CEO of this company for my “Get Up and CODE” podcast and I was able to learn quite a bit about this unique idea for a fitness device.
What I found interesting about the PUSH device is that it isn’t a device that tracks your steps and your activity, but rather is designed to improve your weight-lifting workouts. You basically put this device on your arm or leg while you’re lifting weights and it tracks your reps and sets. But it also tracks things like the amount of force and power you generate, how good your balance is, and how fast you’re moving the weights around.
One major piece of tech gear for my workouts is headphones. I often listen to podcasts or audio blogs when I’m working out, so I like to have a good set of headphones that I can plug into my phone.
There are running apps that track your runs. I actually created an Android and iOS app that was originally called PaceMaker and now is called Run Faster (trademark dispute). This app tracks your runs and helps you keep a certain pace by telling you to “speed up” or “slow down” while you’re running. But even though I created the app, I’ll be the first to say that there are far better apps out there for tracking your runs. (Run Faster is really good for keeping you on pace, though.)
One of my favorite run-tracking apps is called Edomondo. It’s the primary run-tracking app that I use now. It has many different features that allow you to see quite a bit about your runs—including split times and elevation changes.
Another type of app I utilize is one to track my weight-lifting workouts. I used to use a pen and a notebook, but it’s much easier and more convenient to have an app that can track your workouts, tell you what to lift next, and let you know what you lifted previously. If you aren’t tracking your weight-lifting workouts already, you definitely should start.
I’ve finally settled on using the Bodybuilding.com - Huge Online Supplement Store & Fitness Community! app. The reason why I like this app is because it allows me to create the actual workout online through the website and I can save and share that workout with anyone. It could still use a bit of work as the app isn’t all that intuitive, but once I figured it out, I found that it works nicely.