Ah, yes. 2017. A new year, new me–right?
While cynics downplay the idea of New Year’s resolutions, there is something to a fresh start in a new calendar year that’s resonates psychologically, even if it doesn’t make sense rationally.
Yes, we are emotional creatures and most make decisions on how we feel, not how we think. Get over the illusion of rationality and your outlook will change.
Now this year, I implore you to get serious about your physical health.
My Fitness Story
I started my fitness journey early last year. January through March, I’d go hit the campus rec and lift weights occasionally with friends.
Then in April, I got sick of not making progress.
Here’s the thing. I weighed 135 lbs (61 kg) at the time. I was working at a concert venue where I was the smallest, weakest stagehand on the team. It didn’t feel right as a worker, even more a man to have to say, “Hey, I can’t lift this. Can you come over and do this for me?” I felt scrawny. I felt skinny. I felt emasculated. I felt weak.
So what did I do? I went to the gym. Every. Day.
Within two months, I noticeably looked buffer. My self-confidence increased 10x. In four months, I added 20 lbs of lean mass to my frame. I slowed off the gain train for a while and focused on increasing my strength-to-weight ratio, getting better at Ninja Warrior obstacles, and perfecting my weight lifting technique.
Now in 2017, I’m back on the gain train, and will gain another 20 lbs of muscle (175 lbs total, at <9% body fat). I want to clean & jerk 135 lbs for 5 reps, and do 10 push-ups while balancing on rings pushed into the floor–no straps or other supports.
I’m on a decent eating regimen (currently eating Greek yogurt and granola as I type), have cut out sugars and sodas, and am feeling great. The best thing? None of this was really that hard. Actually, it’s been more fun than anything I’ve done in a long time.
Start Here: Hit the Gym
Go work out. Seriously. Getting regular physical exercise not only boosts your body, but keeps your mind light and creative. If you’re stuck in a rut, you can get out of your head by getting into your body. Even if you can’t give up your diet, getting into the gym will help you out physically, emotionally, and creatively.
How to Get Started
If you know someone or have a friend who is really into fitness, see if you can work out with them a few times. It’s really useful to work out with someone who knows what they’re doing. Most people who lift weights are eager to share what they’ve learned. Physical training makes such a difference in your life that once you see the results, you want to tell the world. If you can afford a personal trainer for a few sessions, that’s great, but finding a decently skilled friend is still valuable.
Your Gym Membership
If you can afford a gym membership, great. Mine’s $14.99/month. I have what I need (minus a gymnastics rope to climb up, grrrr), and pay no more for extra frills.
Here’s the things that you should look for in a gym.
When looking for prospective gyms
Use Google and Facebook to do some research on gyms you can tour and try out.
- Is this a 24 hour gym? If you’re in the music biz, chances are you have a messed up sleep schedule. Go somewhere where you can work out at 2AM or 2PM, no problem.
- How close is it to me? Proximity = probability. The farther you are away from the gym, the less likely you’ll go. When I had to drive 25 minutes to Boise State campus to work out, I easily blew off days that I should have done the work. Find something under 15 minutes from your place with good parking around it.
Where do the college kids work out, besides campus gyms? Most students are pretty broke, but clever. They’ll find the best bang for the buck, and go to gyms that reflect that. If you’re on a budget, find their choice and look into.
When touring perspective gyms
Ask these questions when you get to a gym on your list. There’s always someone on-staff who will be eager to show you around and answer questions.
- Do you have stair steppers, treadmills, and air bikes? Studies are starting to show that weight training burns fat equally or better than cardio. It’s still good to warm up and cool down with cardio, as well as train your cardiovascular system. Good cardio equipment is proof of a good gym.
- What accessories do you have? Do you have rings, ropes, TRX straps, plyo boxes, kettlebells, ab rollers, sledge hammers? As you progress in your fitness, you’ll want to customize your workout. These accessories, while each small, can make a big impact on your training. Even if you don’t use them or know what they are now, ask if the gym has them.
- Do you have squat cages and lots of barbells? The squat cage is miraculous, and can be used for bench press, all forms of squats, deadlifts, and powerlifting. While it may not be the most ideal for all of these different exercises, a squat rack can get the job done. Having extra barbells for more deadlifts, Olympic lifts, rows, etc. is awesome to have as well.
The luxury things: swimming pools, jogging tracks, tanning beds, saunas, etc. are nice, but not necessary. If you don’t want to pay for it, then don’t. Finding a smaller, lesser-known gym with the basics can be more valuable than going to Gold’s Gym with all of the perks.
Working Out Without a Gym
Not ready to work out at a gym? That’s not an excuse to stop your physical development. Here’s some ideas for working out at home.
Get a pull-up bar and rings. A small investment in a simple doorway pull-up bar or gymnastic rings can make a huge impact in your life. Here’s some exercises you can do with just a pull-up bar ($20) and gymnastic rings ($25).
Pull-Up Bar Exercises
– Standard Pull-Up
– Wide Grip Pull-Up
– Neutral Grip Pull-Up
– Chin-Up (palms facing towards you)
– Flex Arm Hang (Chin Up, Standard, Neutral and Wide Grip)
– Rear Dips (Pull-Up bar on floor)
– Push-Ups (Pull-Up bar on floor)
– Reverse Hanging Shoulder Shrugs
– Hanging Knee Tucks (Standard and rotating)
– Hanging L-Sits
– Ring Pull-Ups
– Ring Muscle-Ups
– Suspended Ring Dips
– Floor Ring Dips
– Ring Rows (Great for working up to pull-ups)
– Hanging Knee Tucks (Standard and rotating)
– Hanging L-Sits
– Iron Crosses
– Suspended Ring Push-Ups (What I’m doing to work up to push-ups with the rings flat on the ground)
That’s a lot of exercises for ~$45 worth of equipment (less than 3 months of gym membership at my super-cheap gym). All of the major muscle groups (besides legs) can get shredded with just this equipment and your own body weight.
Wanna do your legs too? Do some sprints, air squats, jumps, and wall-sits. Boom. Done.
Visit a Playground. I visit a lot of park playgrounds to mess around on monkey bars, pull-up bars, and the like. It’s fun, and runs parallel to what I do in the Ninja Warrior gym. Most playgrounds, especially older ones, will have different obstacles you can have a blast with, and soft landings if you fall. If you have a park nearby, hit it up. Try to not to pay attention to the weird looks from the moms reading their Cosmo‘s.
Setting Good Fitness Goals
Change, Not Lose
If you want to slim down, refrain from saying, “I want to lose x-amount of pounds.” Instead, give yourself a goal based on body fat percentage, like “Drop down to 15% body fat”.
Here’s the deal: as you start training at the gym or at home, you will lose fat. But, you will also gain muscle–so counting progress by pounds only makes sense if you want to lose fat without building any muscle. I don’t think anyone ever wanted to lose fat without gaining muscle.
Say you’re 25 pounds overweight. You want to lose 20 pounds. So you lift weights and lose 10 pounds of fat, but gain 15 pounds of muscle. You weight yourself after intense training for months, and you’re still 15 pounds away from your goal–even though you’re in much better shape than you were.
Now, you’re chasing a finish line that’s unhealthy to reach. In order to lose that extra 15 pounds (which is mostly muscle at this point), you need to either dip dangerously low into your body fat, starve yourself, or lose the muscle you worked so hard to gain. Whichever way you choose, it’s a bad scenario.
Because of this, I recommend going for a change in body composition. Instead of trying to lose a specific number of pounds, aim to get your body down to a specific of range of body fat. This will make sure that you’re focusing on losing only fat and keeping your muscle.
You can even combine a body comp goal with a weight goal if you really want to. This is more useful if you’re like me and want to go from skinny to buff. For 2017, I want to get down to 9% body fat at 175 lbs. For me, this is losing ~4% body fat and gaining 20 lbs.
Note: BMI (body mass index) might seem like an alternative to tracking body fat percentage, but BMI has the same problem as tracking straight body weight. The BMI scale breaks down to your height divided by your weight, and doesn’t account for the weight of fat versus the weight of muscle in your body. Bodybuilders who look absolutely shredded are often considered obese by BMI standards because their muscles weigh “too much” for their height.
Getting your Body Fat Percentage
Most nutrition shops have body composition scales that you can use for free. They’ll try selling you stuff, and maybe if you feel guilty or eager you’ll buy some supplements. But you can literally just walk in to check your progress for free. It’s a marketing tool to get people into the doors. If you return to the same store, same location, the machines can usually track your progress over time.
You can also buy a home unit and track your progress on a Google Sheet or InBody App. These home units are decently accurate, but won’t give as detailed reports as the nutrition shop pro-models. The professional body composition scales can approximate the amount of muscle in your torso, and individual legs, and arms.
Choose a Motion Goal
In addition to a body comp goal, I recommend choosing an exercise that you want to be able to complete by the end of the year. This might be flexibility like the splits, a Ninja Warrior obstacle like the Warped Wall, or a strength training goal like a 245 lbs bench press (heavy!).
If you’re just starting out, choose a low-hanging goal that you can accomplish easily. Then, you have the forward momentum to choose another slightly more ambitious goal instead of being crushed by not attaining something unreachable.
My other two fitness goals for this year are to complete two difficult motions. The first is 5 clean and jerks at 135 lbs–tough, but by no means record, breaking. The second is 10 push-ups while balancing the body on rings balanced the floor–which requires extreme shoulder, core, and wrist strength.
Last year, my big motion goals were to hit 135 lbs 5 rep max on bench press, and complete a full Salmon Ladder. I did both well before the end of the year, and started focusing on other things!
A Few Things to Keep In Mind
Consistency > Intensity
It’s better to work out for 20 minutes a day than to work out for 10 hours, once a week. Developing the habit to enter the gym day after day creates gains, and more importantly, instills discipline. Listen to Jocko Podcast to get more discipline, gym, and badassery in your life.
Good Plan You Follow > Perfect Plan You Don’t
Sometimes we think that if we can’t do the perfect routine, we shouldn’t try. This is incredibly false. Whatever your plan is, you need to make it sustainable. The good plan you follow is better than the perfect plan you don’t.
While maybe the perfect diet is some paleo-vegan no-carb menagerie, if it’s so bad you give up a week into it, the perfect diet did no good for you. But, if you keep up no soda and candy while still frozen pizza and drinking beer, you’re better off than trying the ideal thing and giving up.
The same goes for exercise. It’s better to go to the gym twice a week than zero times a week. It’s better to workout for 15 minutes than to not work out at all because you don’t have 4 hours to spend sculpting your biceps.
Alcohol has More Calories than Carbs
Just a reminder, every gram of alcohol has 7 calories, while every gram of carbohydrates have 4.
If you’re counting calories, you need to factor in your alcohol consumption. A single Jäeger Bomb can have up to 1,000 calories! If you need a clean, calorie-friendly drink, try out a NorCal margarita.
Get Better Sleep
The music industry as a whole needs more rest. There’s this ridiculous all hustle, no sleep mentality that plagues the industry of their emotional and creative sanity.
1. Track your sleep religiously. Download the Sleep Cycle app and start tracking your sleep. What gets measured gets managed, and you need to get the data in order to improve. Sleep Cycle intelligently tracks your quality of sleep along with the time you’ve spent in bed. Sleep Cycle even has a smart alarm that wakes you up at the ideal part of your sleep cycle.
There are two optional functions you should turn on and pay attention to. First, enable Wake Up Mood. When you wake up in the morning, the app will ask you to rate if you feel good, bad, or okay upon waking up. While not a majorly quantitive measurement, this is still useful data.
Secondly, turn on Sleep Notes. Sleep notes are checklist items that show what you did earlier that day that could affect your sleep. When you turn on your Sleep Cycle app for the night, it will ask you for Sleep Notes. For instance, if you drank coffee late in the day, you could put down “Drank coffee late”, or “Went to bed still drunk” as a sleep note.
You can then use the app’s stats functions to see how different Sleep Notes affect your sleep quality and mood. While it’s by no means perfect data, you can start checking which behaviors give you better sleep, or make it harder to rest, and change your habits appropriately.
2. Only drink caffeine within 3 hours of waking up. Caffeine has a half-life of twelve hours. That means if you consume 150mg of caffeine (roughly a 16oz Red Bull) at 2PM, you will have 75mg of caffeine in your body at 2AM. That’s a lot of caffeine.
Even if you can go to sleep with that much caffeine in your body, your sleep quality will decrease dramatically. If you’re feeling tired in the daytime, go to bed early that night. Supplementing sleep with caffeine is futile, and will cause you to break down at some point.
3. Sleep more, hustle more. There’s this romanticized view of “I don’t sleep because I work too damn hard” that is actually so ridiculous that’s laughable.
First off, unless you’re freakin’ Gary Vee, you probably don’t hustle so much you don’t sleep. Instead, you probably watch 3 hours of Naruto, feel guilty that you’re not working, and stay up until 3AM making minuscule gains on your creative project. That’s not hustle 24/7. That’s doing dumb stuff with your time and lying to yourself about it.
Secondly, getting more sleep is proven to increase your productivity and effectiveness.
Instead of getting 5 hours of sleep and hitting a triple espresso in the morning, get 7 hours of sleep by cutting out some TV, pushing some work off to the next day, or finding other ways to make the time. Maybe you don’t bring your phone in to the bathroom so you don’t sit on the toilet for an extra 30 minute each day. Cool.
Now that you’ve added a couple hours of sleep, I can guarantee that you will feel more refreshed, more productive, and more energetic the next day. You can’t be productive, creative, or charismatic without rest. If you run on fumes, you will break down on the side of the road. So even if you have to cut out work and feel like you’re doing less in the short-term, getting more rest can help you accomplish more in the longterm. Instead of staying up two extra hours and trying to work while exhausted, you can go to sleep and crush that same to-do list in 30 minute when you’re well-rested the next day.
4. Stop using weed and alcohol to fall asleep. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not nature’s perfect sleep aid. Recent studies show that THC reduces the brain’s ability to enter REM sleep, the deep, restorative sleep that determines the quality of rest and rejuvenation. Ever wondered why you don’t remember your dreams after a few bedtime bowls? That’s probably because you physiologically can’t. (If you can smoke and dream, kudos, but seriously try going without for a week). Your brain’s ability to dream–a byproduct of REM sleep–is inhibited.
Similarly, alcohol does not allow the body to enter really restorative, restful sleep. If you need a nightcap or a few glasses of wine to go to bed, you need to figure out a new way to get to sleep. Check the recommendation below.
5. Try out meditation. I had onset insomnia (trouble getting to sleep) for years. I started taking prescription sleep aids at age eleven, and stopped my senior year in high-school. My need for sleep aids went to zero after months of neurofeedback therapy and meditation.
Neurofeedback and meditation both rewire and train the brain to function more optimally in very similar ways. While the expensive, professional, high-tech neurofeedback treatments can expedite the results of meditation, even a month into a daily mindfulness practice can work wonders on your sleep.
I write a lot about meditation, but it is seriously a game changer. I use the guided meditation app Headspace app quite regularly, and can lead myself on unguided meditations when needed. Their Take 10 program, a 10 minutes a day, 10 day free trial is amazing, and can improve your quality of life even if you don’t purchase a subscription. Just repeat those first 10 days for as long as you’d like.
If you want to opt in, it’s $11.99/month for a Headspace subscription, but I truly do believe that it’s a gym membership for your mind. Replace your nightly melatonin, weed, and wine budget with a Headspace membership and try it out.
6. Avoid your phone, laptop, and social media for 1 hour before bed.
Last night, I didn’t get too great of sleep. I spent every moment on my phone, up to brushing teeth. The mouse wheels of social media, business opportunities, and content ideas rumbled through my head for a full hour as I tossed and turned. I could feel the screen burned into my eyes and exploding in the center of my head. I had broken my own rule of no phones before bed.
Does this sound familiar to you? Take a break from stimulating activities before bed. Don’t hop on Facebook, Instagram, or check your Snapchat story views. If you’re going to read, go for some fiction that can calm your mind down. Reading business or self-help books before bed can stimulate your brain into going down a million pathways and thinking up a horde of new ideas. This literary stimulus is great if it’s in the daytime, but horrible if you have to wake up in 7 hours.
Stay off your phone for an hour before bed. Create a repeating calendar event to do remind you to put phones down. Use your phone to set up your Sleep Cycle app, and say goodnight to your significant other before leaving it untouched until morning.
A Word About Diet
I’ve never been in the position where I really need to lose weight. The sedentary lifestyles of many producers, combined with the raucous partying, drunchies, and copious amounts of Red Bull can lead to some dietary issues.
Although I’m not an expert on fitness, I’m far less an expert on diet. I do know a few things, however.
- Fats are good, carbs are bad. Recent consensus says that a diet high in fats and proteins is more beneficial than one that is high on carbs. For me, I notice a dramatic energy decline when I consume excessive carbs, and a sickening feeling in my body. Plus, most modern carbs are processed to hell and back. I’m not a devout organic, non-GMO type person, but I still get some bad juju when I read the back of the box of Cheez-its.Try going for a more paleo-type diet. There’s tons: Paleo, Slow Carb, Gluten Free, some forms of Veganism/Vegetarianism, and the Ketogenic Diet (if you’re a badass and uber disciplined). Remember again, the okay diet you follow is better than the perfect one you don’t.
- Stop drinking sweet stuff. Exchange your Red Bull, berry juice, Diet Coke, or venti frappuccino for something without the calories. If you’re trying to lose weight or change body comp and you’re consuming 200 calories a drink, you’re deluding yourself. Try some unsweetened green tea and black coffee if you need a caffeine fix. In all other cases: drink water.
- Listen to your body and see what fuels it. Whenever I consume protein, I feel this weird rush of warmth over my body. Whenever I eat sugar or a high amount of carbs, I feel a sudden drop in my mental clarity and energy level. The more religious you are with diet, the more in-tune you’ll be with what works to fuel your body, and what doesn’t. While we all may look similar on the outside, each individual is different inside. Listen to your body over anything else.
LET’S MAKE 2017 A KICKASS YEAR TO BE ALIVE.