It’s pretty obvious that we didn’t evolve to sit in front of screens all day. The idea of being sedentary is something relatively recent — our ancestors were out ploughing or foraging, and only the sick and handicap stayed in one place for very long. So it’s no wonder that after a day of sitting at the computer, our necks get strained. Our backs ache. Our heads throb.
I’m pretty certain I won’t be abandoning my life in front of a MacBook anytime soon, but feeling shitty sucks. And while there are a lot of band-aids like chiropractors, ice packs, heat packs, massage, and drugs, they’re all just patches. The underlying problem isn’t addressed.
About a year ago, I was going looking through some internet forum and read something that really stood out: “How to get fit: Lift things and move around, don’t eat too much, and sleep a lot.” And while there are tens of thousands of books, blog posts, videos, and whatever else that prescribes how to look better and feel better, but does it really get much simpler than that?
I’ve tried just about every diet, exercise program, and general “lifehack” available to avoid the body and head aches that keep me from being productive. This post isn’t a prescription, nor am I referencing any experts. Consider it broscience, if you will. But it is what’s been working for me. My mood is through the roof, I’m energetic, and I get more done in a day than I used to get done in a week… and my wife thinks I look better than ever, which yields a lot of added benefits
A few years ago, I got into Crossfit. I won’t be too critical of Crossfit, but I think the idea of doing complicated olympic lifts as fast as you can is just stupid. I hurt my neck quite a few times doing cleans, and a lot of other people are getting hurt because first timers are being thrown barbells and told to do Clean and Jerks for time. Not cool. There’s also a cult atmosphere around Crossfit and “boxes” (a fancy name for a Crossfit gym) revolve around group workouts. I’m pretty introverted, and would rather workout on my time, by myself, headphones in ear.
After Crossfit, I did Starting Strength (SS) for about 6 months. I loved SS. The standard program has you doing the big compound lifts: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, and power cleans. To make things even more interesting, each time you work out you’re meant to hit a new record with all your lifts. I might squat 205 today, but in two days I’ll be squatting 210, and then 215.
After I maxed out on Starting Strength, I took a bit of a break — sparked by a long string of trips — and plumped back up. I did some bodyweight exercises, but for the most part I was sedentary. And once again, my body made me regret that decision.
I now practice a program called PHAT, which is a 5-day split that makes room for both strength training (e.g. Starting Strength-style) and hypertrophy. Strength training focuses on high weight and low volume, which helps you become, well, strong. Hypertrophy is high volume and lower weight, the payoff being given enough time and a good diet, you’ll start to look like an Abercrombie model. I’m not really aiming to look like a powerlifter.
My arms are bigger, my chest is more defined, and my belly’s disappearing. Abs are more a result of diet (you’ll have abs if you can reach 10-12% body fat), and I’m hoping to be there by the end of summer.
Cardio: I’m not a huge fan of cardio. It has it’s role, but have you ever noticed how frail long distance runners are? On my rest days, I’ll do sprints around the block — a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT), where you move as quickly as possible for 10 or 20 seconds.
Diet and exercise go hand in hand. One of my gripe’s with Starting Strength was that it emphasized a LOT of eating, because the only way to continually lift heavier weights is to have a shit ton of stored energy. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to both gain muscle (quickly) and lose fat at the same time, so a lot of people who follow strength training programs end up looking big and bulky. Again, this isn’t what I’m going for.
There are a lot of fad diets out there. Paleo/primal, vegetarian, juicing, eating just raw vegetables, and so on. Here’s what you need to know: Figure out your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure.) Eat less calories than that, and you’ll begin to lose weight. Paleo “works” because it’s really fucking hard to take in a lot of calories without a big side of pasta or bread, and a lot of people on the paleo diet end up getting under their TDEE.
I also follow intermittent fasting (IF). I only eat for 8 hours a day, and this is usually after my 11am workout (I train in a fasted state, and drink BCAAs right before working out.) This means that at around 8pm, I’m done eating and won’t eat again until around noon. This forces my body to feed off of my stored fat, and and a few days after starting IF I had no desire to eat in the morning.
A few quick rules I’ve been following:
- Drinking calories is about the dumbest thing you can do. This includes juice. Your body can’t register the fact that you’ve just drank a bunch of calories, and therefore can’t tell you, “Stop! I’m full!” Just drink (unsweet) tea, coffee, and water.
- If you’re active, aim for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Fall in love with cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and meat.
- Use this link to determine how many calories you should eat per day depending on your activity level.
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Stick to fresh produce, meat, and dairy.
- If you’re low on protein, a protein shake can add a quick 30g to your daily intake.
- Drink lots of green tea or (my favorite) Pu-Erh tea.
An added side effect of working out is you won’t want to eat crappy food.
Supplement companies make billions a year peddling the latest and greatest pill. Supplements should be the last thing you focus on once you get your diet and exercise straight. I’ve tried dozens and dozens of types of supplements, and have since focused on a few that genuinely help:
- Fish oil (Omega-3 fatty acids) — Helps reduce inflammation, a must if you do a lot of resistance training.
- Vitamin D — We were meant to be out in the sun a lot more than most of us are. I taper back in the summer months, but getting at least 1000IU of Vitamin D daily can help to immediately boost your mood.
- Creatine monohydrate — No, it’s not a steroid. And no, it’s not cocaine. This white powder will help you build muscle faster, and has also helped increase my cognition (one of the known effects.) Take 5g a day. I mix it into oatmeal or protein shakes.
- Yohimbine — I take this immediately after waking up. The effect it’s had when mixed with IF has been huge.
- Zinc — Increases testosterone.
Want to lose fat, wake up refreshed, and have the energy you need to move very heavy things off the ground? Then sleep, damn it! Most people are sleep deficient, and these days I aim for 8-9 hours a day of sleep. I can’t remember the last time I woke up groggy.
You should get up as often as you can, and go outside whenever possible. When I’m focused on something for a long stretch, I’ll use a Pomodoro timer and force myself to get up, move around, and get some sun and fresh air.
My daily schedule is as follows:
- 5am: Wake up
- 5:15am – 8am: Start work for the day
- 8am-9am: Help kids get ready for school and drink some coffee
- 9am-11am: Finish up work for the day
- 11am-12pm: Exercise, pick up kids from school
- 12pm-7pm: Eat, play, and do light work (like writing this blog post)
- 7pm-9pm: Get ready for bed. Might include reading or watching a movie or TV show for an hour or so.
- 9pm-ish: Go to sleep
A few takeaways I want to leave you with. I spend about 5 hours a week in the gym. That’s the only additional overhead that’s come with this new lifestyle.
I also rarely have body or headaches. I don’t have an afternoon slump, or wake up and immediately want to pass back out. I’m more focused. I don’t get distracted as easily. And, best of all, I have plenty of time to “play” — hanging out with my kids, the dog, reading, etc. — before the sun goes. My sleep pattern generally follows sundown to sunrise (this pattern probably won’t work if you’re a social animal. I’m not.)
I’m also looking better and have straightened my posture, which makes me more confident, which makes interacting with people a lot more tolerable for introverted me.
So there it is. Make of this what you will, but if you are sedentary and constantly feel like shit: Lift things and move around, don’t eat too much, and sleep a lot!