I talk to people about working out, dieting and fitness all the time, but I don’t really talk about it. I am such a nerd for this stuff that having a real discussion about it would be too nerdy.
Also, I get nervous because while I want to be nerdier, my depth of knowledge is limited. And wrong.
Why is that when I read so much about the subject? Because Nutrition and Fitness is an area frought with poor information. It seems like genetics play such a huge role in outcomes that it seems to throw off the data. You see one huge guy tell you he does it one way, you see another impossibly fit fellow say he does it another. Who is to believe?
I want to outline my approach just so it is documented for the record.
Working Out and Exercise
First, I want to talk about, at a high level, what workout is the best. The answer to that is you have to change workout programs all the time. A universal truth that I think you see in every workout discussion is that your body adapts to stress so you must constantly uncover new ways to stress it to promote change.
The joke you always hear about Crossfit is: “How do you know somebody does Crossfit? They tell you.” But I think the point of Crossfit is with a variety of workouts (WODs in Crossfit speak), the constantly changing stress is good. I am a believer that Crossfit is probably really good.
Of course, I don’t do Crossfit.
My problem with Crossfit is two-fold: First, the astronomical price of Crossfit gyms makes it look unappealing to me. Second, the time commitment of visiting a gym is unappealing to me. I have kids so I can’t just go out and hit the gym for an hour and I can’t drive 30 minutes to get to the nearest Crossfit facility, then spend 45 minutes showering and driving home. So I work out at home.
How do I like to workout? I like to lift heavy. I wish I enjoyed cardio more, but I just don’t. Don’t like to run, don’t like to ride a bike. It is unfortunate because it is at mild odds with my objectives. What are they? Glad you asked.
1) Be better at basketball
2) Have my wife think I look good
So if your goals are different than mine, while I think my program is more or less universally applicable and good, it is worth pointing out. I met a guy that rides chunks of the Tour de France every year. This program would not be super helpful for him. Although he could do worse.
My Home Workout Situation
I lived in Columbia, MD for ~5 years when we first had kids. The great thing about Columbia (although many dislike it) is that you are required to join the neighborhood association and it gives you access to the neighborhood gyms maintained by the Columbia Association, which are totally top notch.
Despite access to top notch gyms, as I said previously, I found that actually finding the time to go to the gym was becoming harder and harder to do as my kids happened. Also, I heard about P90x and somebody told me that it was actually really good. So I bought a pull-up bar and some adjustable dumbbells.
When I moved to Bethesda, I was already pretty bought into working out in the comfort of my own home, so I committed to not joining a gym. My promise to myself was if I went a year or so without paying a gym membership, I would allow myself to reinvest the proceeds into “ultimate home gym”.
I successfully went a year with just my home gym (although my wife bought me an exercise ball and a foam roller so I could try P90x2). I took my proceeds and bought an olympic bar and some weights on Craigslist and then I bought a power rack on Amazon. I have to say, I am super happy with the way that all worked out and I feel like my setup is really, really nice. I wish I had something for leg curls and leg extensions, but otherwise it would be pretty close to perfect.
My entry point to home workout video programs was the original P90x. P90x is good. People would ask me about it and my answer was always the same: “P90x absolutely works. If you workout for an hour and a half every day, you will totally end up in better shape than you were before.” For me, that was the problem. I found that making 1.5 hours every day to workout was just too hard.
I have to be honest, I didn’t like P90x2. I found that the primary difference between P90x and P90x2 was that they tried to introduce instability into the program. This meant that they want you to buy a bunch of equipment from them. So the primary point of P90x2 was to sell you some stuff. I have mixed feelings about instability. To me, I didn’t feel stronger or like I was getting better work if I was doing something with a 15 pound weight with instability or a 30 pound weight from a more stable position.
P90x3 was a big step for our family. The big innovation of P90x3 was to finish every workout in 30 minutes. P90x3 is solid, although it is a bit sad as you realize that Tony Horton is getting old. Whereas in P90x you feel like Tony is doing every set and every rep with you, in P90x3 he is more of a fatherly coach.
So I progressed right through these programs and then I was looking for something even more weight-lifting oriented. That was when I discovered the Beast
Body Beast is pretty awesome. Sagi is awesome. The program is hard-working and focused – every session is 30-45 minutes. If you like watching a video while exercising and you want to lift heavy with just dumbbells, a bench, and a pull-up bar, then the Beast will help you get bigger.
Starting Strength 5×5
I’ve tried some non-video programs as well. I did Starting Strength for 4 or 5 months and was a big fan. Here is what I liked about Starting Strength: With the other programs, you carefully record how heavy each weight is for each exercise and how many reps you do. For Starting Strength, on the first day you figure out how heavy you can lift in a few core exercises, then for each day thereafter it tells you the exact weights you should lift and the number of times you should lift them. I thought that was great because it took all of the thinking out of the process. I didn’t have to look back and try to figure out if I should go up or not, I just showed up, lifted each weight the prescribed number of times and I was done. I was also a big fan of Starting Strength because it really leaned into my power rack.
I have tried doing some of the programs on Bodybuilding.com. I pretty carefully screened them for things that leaned into my power rack and didn’t assume I had access to machines. This is pretty tricky as it turns out so I didn’t get as much value as I had hoped, but I really, really liked the web site tools for logging your workouts and tracking your progress. I recommend them.
Bodybuilding.com and Travel
In the interest of mixing it up, I do love to use Bodybuilding.com when I am traveling. The mobile app is really, really good and I will select a more or less random workout from Bodybuilding.com and just do it. I am always amazed at the gym when I work out is that people seem to have a plan without constantly taking notes and looking at their list. I have a list with weights I lifted previously and reps I did previously and I do the exercises on the list at the same weight or higher, usually.
As Sagi says, “abs are made in the kitchen”. Maybe it would have been different when I was younger, but I can definitely sense my metabolism has slowed and being on diet is super important. If your goal is to build muscle, I have found protein consumption is important. Now, I know a nutritionist that tells me in casual conversation that Americans consume way too much protein, but I found more protein makes a difference. But really, the issue is reducing caloric intake while making sure you are getting enough vitamins and protein. You see a lot of different numbers thrown around but it seems like the concensus is .5 to .75 grams per pound of bodyweight. I don’t track that super dogmatically, but I always have a protein shake with my morning workout that is 40g, then I make sure I have another 20-40 grams of protein at breakfast and then some chicken at some point and I usually figure if I know I got to over 100 grams, then I am trending pretty well.
I try to eat Paleo-ish/slow carb, but I am not dogmatic about cheat days usually and I love carbs, so resisting them makes me sad.
My wife and I have done a bit of dieting and it is certainly true that you will be surprised at how little food you actually need to survive and not even feel hungry. It is easier than you think!
There is definitely a strategy in nutrition to bulking and leaning out. I don’t really have a best practice there.
This is a post I have been meaning to write for some time because thinking about this stuff consumes a surprising portion of my day – usually one hour around 6:30 in the morning. I would love to hear your best practices for fitness.