If you told me a decade ago that I would love fitness, I would’ve thought you were insane. Yup.
Batshit crazy. That’s because ten years ago, I was a 220 lb couch potato that loathed exercise
more than anyone I knew. Seriously, I hated exercise like Garfield hates Mondays.
It’s not that I was lazy about everything; I had passions, like computers, playing the piano, and other geeky activities that don’t help a chubby kid’s street cred. But walking up a flight of stairs? Nope, I would have been a panting hot mess. My family was pretty sedentary, and the only thing that “ran” in my family was a piss poor metabolism that made my disdain for physical activity even worse. Just looking at a pint of ice cream, my favorite food, would cause it to go straight to my fat cells – that is if I didn’t eat it first.
Fast forward a decade later. I’m now an amateur bodybuilder who lifts more than twice his body weight and competes in fitness shows. Now, I can run up 50 flights without breaking too much of a sweat (as tested by a power outage in my high rise). Best of all, I’m passionate about fitness. You might think that all of this now means that I spend every waking moment in the gym. On the contrary, as an entrepreneur spends almost waking hour running Fitocracy, I don’t have the time. In fact, I still enjoy ice cream (sometimes in very large quantities), and I still hate the stairs.
So what’s different now? In terms of my necessities, fitness is right up there with eating,
sleeping, and sex.
There. I just told you the secret of fitness. The secret of fitness is to learn to think of it in the same way as you think about eating, sleeping, and sex.
These four basic needs are hardwired into my life. No matter how busy I get, I always find time for them, and they get priority over other needs. They’re musts and I habitually fit these things into my schedule without much thought.
For example, the other night I was pretty damn excited. I knew that the following day would be one-rep-max test day for squats. It’s not the load of being under a barbell that excites me – quite the opposite. I'm sometimes scared shitless by the actual up-and-down movement with a heavy ass barbell on my back. It’s the fact that I was on track to hit a new personal record.
Ironically, the excitement caused me to wake up late from tossing and turning all night. After glancing at my alarm clock in horror, I quickly downed my morning coffee and hustled to the gym. If I didn’t, I would have had that nagging feeling of missing a workout, a feeling that lasts all day.
Later at the office, I took an occasional break when my mind started getting numb from crunching data. I caught myself compulsively checking updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Fitocracy. Yes, I was interacting with fitness geeks on Fitocracy in the same way that I “like” people on Facebook. It has nothing to do with the fact that Fitocracy is my company. It has everything to do with the fact that fitness is now top of mind for me, and my Fitocracy feed is just as magnetic as my Facebook newsfeed.
Food, Sleep, and Sex
What’s different about these three activities? No matter how busy you get, eventually you eat and you sleep. As for sex, you can do without, but most of us wouldn’t want to. Even the busiest people find time for all three – and all three take up plenty of time.
Yet time after time, we make the same New Year’s Resolution: to “get fit” (a fuzzy and lackluster goal), and time after time, we fail.
It’s not for lack of trying. Plenty of the “New Year’s Resolution fallen” have been excited, even ecstatic to embark on their journey. (Hint: It's not about willpower, because it takes much less willpower than you think. Much much less. More on that later.) No, we fail because we don’t think of fitness in that same indispensable way – the “if I don’t do this, I don’t feel right” kind of way – and so, statistics show that we predictably grow weaker and more obese with each passing year.
To become the fitness success you desire to be –- and to quit being a statistic –- you have to make your daily fitness activities as indispensable, as rewarding, and even as pleasurable to you as eating, sleeping, and sex.
I hope to use this blog to show you how to use fitness to make your life more pleasurable. To become the best version of yourself. Not by turning you into someone you’re not, but by showing you the right way to set goals. You’re going to find out how to get excited about going to the gym. You’re going to realize that you can get in great shape, despite indulging in your favorite foods (steak and ice cream, anyone?).
When you start thinking about fitness in the correct way, it doesn’t matter if you’re busy, tired, traveling, or whatever, you will find a way to incorporate it. Today, not only have I rewired my own brain to be excited about exercise, but I’ve been able to instill fitness mindsets in my clients – the current Miss America, busy professionals like CEOs, entrepreneurs, and lawyers – with high success rates.
You can see two of my clients – Rehouven, a busy dad, and the newly crowned Miss America aka Mallory – below. Both were extremely busy and managed to stick to their fitness goals.
Why I can help you
If you’re someone who wants to think about fitness in the way I’ve described, then I can help you. It’s not just because I’ve been able to lose 80 lbs of fat and gain 40 lbs of muscle. Neither is it because I had to spend my adult life learning about nutrition and exercise to combat my genetics – genetics that left me looking strikingly similar to the chubby kid from Up.
I can help you because I’ve failed many times with diet and exercise. In doing so, I learned to “rewire” the way my brain thinks about fitness and help many clients do the same. I also run Fitocracy (along with my partner in crime, Brian) which houses the population with the largest amount of phenomenal physical transformations – more than almost any doctor sees in their entire lifetime. By talking to thousands upon thousands of users and looking at their data, I have a very good glimpse of what works and what doesn't.
An Overweight Beginner
What you don't see in any of my transformation pictures is how I fell flat on my face many times. That's right. In fact, almost every single year, I made a New Year’s resolution to get fit and failed.
Every year around December, I would make a New Year’s Resolution to exercise daily, lose weight, and turn over a new leaf. I would start off the plan with sky-high motivation, undeterred by my previous failures. They were, after all, due to a lack of discipline that would be different this time around. Right?
And attempt to turn my life around I did – for several years in a row. On the 2nd of January, I’d awaken early in the morning to the nagging of my alarm clock, eager to pound the pavement as fast and hard as my lethargic (read: jiggly) body parts would allow. Despite being out of breath within five minutes, I pushed through sweat, exhaustion, and sometimes pain. I did this for several days in a row, sometimes having streaks that lasted a whole week. It felt great.
But eventually, like clockwork, things would fall apart. The extra hours of sleep would entice me too much to deny. Or the thought of my sore, swollen ankles, applying pressure against the road would leave me motionless to get up. Regardless, there was always a reason, and I would guiltily silence my alarm clock, set a precedent, and slowly made my way back to my old habits by February.
Breaking the pattern
One year I decided to do something different.
If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m a huge nerd. In 2004, I finally decided to do what all geeks do – turn to the Internet for help. For dozens of hours every week, I would read everything that I could about the subject, often hanging around fitness forums and reading everything about nutrition and training that I could get my hands on.
I treated myself as my own scientific experiment, attempting every diet under the sun: low carb, high carb, eating six meals a day, eating one meal a day, the South Beach diet, the Atkins diet, and so on. I spent a lot of time dieting and a lot of time at the gym. I reached my lowest weight at about 150 lbs, but I was still "skinnyfat." (Picture on the right.) So I focused on putting on mass through strength training.
Lean but miserable: The yo-yo dieting days
By 2006, I had already lost a majority of the fat I was carrying and built a decent physique. But I wasn’t happy. I averaged 10 hours per week at the gym and tried to follow fitness advice that seemed nutritionally sound and innocent enough – eat “clean” foods, do lots of abdominal work and cardio, and avoid alcohol – just to name a few.
My first bodybuilding show, after months of boiled chicken breast and steamed broccoli
If I wasn’t doing hardcore cardio and wasn’t taking the stairs, I would stew in a bath of self loathing for “not taking fitness seriously”. I soon found out that this lifestyle was far from maintainable. In fact, the harder I dieted and trained, the more weight I gained when I slipped up. After breaking a streak of two weeks on the treadmill, the last thing I’d want to do is start it up again.
Have you ever heard the phrase “Losing weight isn’t the hard part. Keeping it off is”? Well, it’s 100% true – at least with the knowledge most people have. My weight fluctuated depending on the amount of time that I had to commit to fitness or how much I dreaded cardio.
I thought that I was a doomed to a life of misery – I could either be miserable being fat, or I could be miserable staying lean.
Re-wiring my brain and figuring it out
Then, something changed.
First, I started approaching fitness with more self-awareness. I noticed that depending on the month, I was either “consistent” or “hardcore”. These were two diametric opposites; I couldn’t be both at once. I noticed that my best progress always occurred when I was consistent. During these periods, I neither thought of going to the gym as a celebratory occasion, nor did I think of it as a chore. Instead, it was something I did – like washing your hands after using the restroom.
Secondly, I also found a series of protocols that would change the way I view fitness. They taught me that everything most people know about diet and exercise – even fit people – is wrong. The intersection of these things changed my life forever.
Today, I don't need to go to the gym more than three times a week for more than 45 minutes/session. I also do no cardio. I maintain a healthy physique while maintaining a social life and working 80 hours a week, which was covered on TechCrunch.
I’m stronger, leaner, and fitter than I’ve ever been, but I’m not special. Anyone can learn these techniques and rewire their brain to adapt this mindset andnever have to embark on another fitness New Year’s Resolution ever again.
By the way, I now unashamedly – some would say proudly even – hate taking the stairs.