Make Ahead Breakfast

I am a morning person.  I love mornings.  I get things done in the morning.

My problem is that as the years have gone by, more and more things have been added to my morning routine.  I am out of time and I need some changes.  Is there a way to get more done ahead of time?  Yes.  Of course there is.  This article from Mike Matthews really helped.   Batching tasks is an effective way to save time so why not batch breakfast?

This past week I took some of the ideas from that article and gave it a try.  On Sunday, I scrambled a dozen eggs with a baked sweet potato (chopped), a diced zucchini and about two cups of spinach.  Add a bit of Italian seasoning (love it on eggs) and…


…six days of breakfast.

Split it into three containers and freeze two of them.  Eat one half of each container per day.

The bottom line is that it tastes good.  Not great, but good.  I give it a solid three out of five stars.  The biggest drawback is that it gets a bit watery and has to be drained.

Goal Setting 2016

Goals are all over the internet right now.  It comes with the season.  As year end approaches people are motivated by the start of a new year to take on new challenges.  There is no shortage of advice on how to set and achieve those goals.  Workshops, webinars, courses, blog posts (like this one) are all over the place at a variety of different prices.

Save your money.  Its really not that complicated.

Most peNew Goalople think goals are about will power.  I disagree.  The challenge is staying conscious of them.  So many things happen in our daily lives that it is easy to get distracted, forget, lose track and drift off course.  Before you know it,  the well thought out goals that you set in December and January have morphed and twisted.  You end up going in a circle.

The cycle goes on.  Set the goal, drift off course, get disappointment, admit failure, rebound, reload and set a new goal.

Keep the goal in front of you and you be less likely to drift off course.

Try this:

First, get a notebook.  If you want to use a computer or your phone, fine, but a notebook works better.  The act of writing by hand has an impact that typing doesn’t.

Another plus is that you are limited to the number of pages in the book.  Goals should have a goal line.  The amount of information you can type in a Word document is limitless and that won’t help you stay on course.

I like the old “composition” notebooks that I used back in grammar school.  Not the spiral bound piece of crap where the pages end up falling out.  I’m talking about those black and white hardcover jobs with the stitching in the middle.  Those won’t fall apart so easily.  You can get one with 100 sheets in it and that’s exactly what we need.  One hundred day goals are doable.  Its a short time frame for you to build up some gaining momentum.

Yes, I know that a 100 sheet book has 200 pages.  That means that each notebook covers a max of two goals.  That’s a good thing.  Don’t work on too many goals at once.  Each one has a 100 day limit so pick the two that are most important right now and work on those.  Other goals can wait for the next 100 days.

Second, set up your notebook.  Write the 100 day goal on the first page of the book.  You can jot down your five or ten year objective if you want, but that’s not what the notebook is for.  The notebook is for goals with a goal line that is in site.

Let’s say that your 100 day goal is to add twenty pounds to your bench press.  It can be five pounds, it can be 100 pounds.  Who cares?  The amount is not important because that will vary with the individual.

In order to hit that twenty pound increase in the next 100 days or so you have to plan out thirteen or fourteen weeks of workouts.  You can do that on a spreadsheet and I’ll cover that in another post.

Below the one hundred day goal you write out the goal for the first week.  You can take it off the spreadsheet.  How much will you bench this week?

Below that, outline the week.  Make a list for Monday through Sunday and write the one major action to be taken on each day.  To be clear, ONE MAJOR ACTION.  For the outline we want focus on a narrow range of activities.  Going for too much will cause drift.

Below the outline write the reward that you will grant yourself for successfully achieving the weekly goal.  Rewards are important.  They don’t have to be huge.  They just have to be an acknowledgement of a job well done.  Do not neglect this step.

Third, use your notebook.  Each evening, on a fresh page, write the activities that you have to do the next  day in order to achieve your goal.  In this step you can list as much as you want because your time frame is only the next twenty four hours.  Include not only in-the-gym activities but also things like rest, nutrition and reading or research.

When you are done with that, review the day just ended.  Check off the activities that you followed through on and put an X next to the misses and failures.  We all have failures so don’t bother ignoring them.  Minor failures are expected and are part of the process.  Acknowledge your shortcomings and move on.

Every morning read your 100 day goal, the outline for the week and the steps to be taken that day.  That will keep the big goal in the forefront and keep you on course.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t alter or change.  It just means that you won’t do so inadvertently.  Its the drift that you want to avoid.

Compete or Work Together?

“The third group worked out with a single partner and was told that the results of their test were based on the partner with the weaker performance”.

That piece of information comes from an article on Breaking from Doug Dupont.

Have you ever thought about training partners that way before?  As I read this article I expected Doug to tell me that the third group was competing against one another.  Instead, its a team approach.

The next question – is the motivating factor the fear of letting your teammate down or the fear of losing?  I believe the answer is the later.

I used to teach college classes.  Part of the course requirements were to stand up in front of the class and give a five minute presentation.  In the beginning, it was every man (or woman) for himself.  When assigned as an individual project the results were not great.  There were always a few students who did not put forth the effort.  Later, the format was changed to a group presentation,  The results were outstanding.  I attribute the improvement to the peer pressure element.  When other people are counting on you it makes a difference.   The speeches were much better.

In the classroom, in the gym and in many other areas of life, the takeaway is that people will try harder to support other people than they will to rise above it.

photo credit: Ukarumpa Sports Day 2010 tug of war via photopin (license)

Are You Training To Failure or Are You Just Quitting?

Working out alone in a basement or garage gym is a way of life for thousands of trainees.  These are the people who get up early or stay up late to grind out reps with barbells and dumbbells.  Nothing flashy, no distractions, and no spin class going on in the next room.  Just us and the weights.

That’s the upside.

There is a downside and one of them is the comfort zone.  Training solo is preferred by many, but are they all training this way for the right reasons?

In most areas of life no one likes to fail.  The gym is an exception.  Training to failure is often our goal.  What we have to avoid is quitting.

Can you push a set to the max without someone there to push you?  I’m not talking about the safety aspect.  It goes without saying that you need to be smart.  I’m talking about what goes on in your head.  Human nature is to head for the door as soon as the pain starts.

Can you eek out one, two or even three more reps?  Its hard to keep the weight moving.  Its hard to know when the set is really done.  That’s where a good training partner is worth their weight in gold.  A good training partner knows how to push you to your limit.

Can you do that by yourself?  There is no answer to that question, but here’s two ideas to help you get to the limit:

1 – Time Under Lift.  I write about this concept a lot and that’s because I believe it is a superior way to train.  Make the clock you goal and give yourself permission to use negatives and static holds to get there.  Just be sure not to get sloppy.

2 – Start counting when the reps get painful.  This is a play on the famous quote from Muhammad Ali.  When someone asked him how many sit ups he did he responded by saying that he did not know because he didn’t start counting until it started to hurt.  When it comes to squats, bench press and dead lift, by the time the pain starts you probably don’t have much left in the tank.  So make your sets only one, two or three reps but only count the ones that hurt.



Missing Your Numbers

Did you miss your numbers today?

I did. I missed on the bench. That’s nothing new. Bench has always been the most challenging exercise for me. Over the years I’ve missed on the bench more times than I can count.

What’s interesting is that in the same workout I hit my planned numbers for everything else.  So why is failure the first thing that comes to mind when I think back on what I did this morning?  Because everyone else does the same thing.  We all do.  We’re wired to see what’s wrong, not what’s right.  The stuff we do right is just not that interesting to us.  It’s the stuff we got wrong that’s the problem.

Maybe that’s the right way to look at weightlifting.  If you never failed on an exercise why would you be motivated to go back to the gym?  You would have nothing to prove.  You would never know the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment that come from striving and achieving after struggle and failure and trying again.

On Tuesday I will try again.   And again on Thursday.  And on and on and on.

photo credit: Bench-Pressing Snowman via photopin (license)


Spending Money Is Less Painful Than Action

The result of action could be failure and failure is painful.  Think about it.  If you actually did something it might not work out.  You might even end up looking stupid.  So its easier to buy a book or watch a seminar or buy some strange piece of equipment or even join a gym.  To do those things you have to part with some hard earned cash and that can feel painful.  It can even fool you into thinking that you did something.

But you didn’t.  Not really.

Skills have to be learned, but they also have to be applied.  No one makes progress in the weight room or in relationships or in your career without standing up and trying. Progress IS NOT continually investing and analyzing and tweeking.  Progress is moving forward and demonstrating to yourself that you are better today than you were yesterday.

So here’s the challenge:

Ignore all advice and opinions until you put something new into action.  Try what you learned yesterday before learning something new today.

How do you do that? By doing better today than you did yesterday. That’s it. Not by buying a course or a service or a product or listening to a podcast or continually changing your exercise form, number or reps, choice of exercises, etc.

Do better today than you did yesterday!

Or even do worse than you did yesterday.

Just do something.


Thinking Too Much Is A Bad Thing

Too much education can be a bad thing, too.

Books, courses, gadgets, trainers, coaches.  We can invest our time and money in many different things.  But investment is not a substitute for action.  I’ve been guilty of that many times in my life.  Spending money feels like a sacrifice and can be painful.  But the real pain is in the execution.  It can be easy to confuse the two.  You don’t make progress by thinking.  You make it by doing.

Jim Rohn said that its easy to get motivated to lift 200 lbs until you get to the gym.

You are losing when you fool yourself into believing that you’re making progress because your are laying out your time and money learning things instead of actually trying things.

So here’s the challenge:

Don’t read another book, don’t watch another video, don’t listen to another podcast, don’t sign up for another course, don’t go to another seminar, don’t buy another tool or gadget….

….until you try and apply something….

….from the last book, video, podcast, course, seminar tool or gadget.


Five Reasons To Try TUL

Time under lift (TUL), sometimes called time under tension (TUT) is an alternative to the standard sets and reps method of training.  Instead of a set of ten reps, get yourself a stop watch and keep the weight moving for between 45 and 60 seconds.

Here’s five reasons why you should try it:

  1. No one cares how much weight you lift.  “How much do you bench?”.  That’s a common question among trainees.  But its meaningless.  No one is interested in the answer.  Don’t believe me?  Think of five people you know from your gym and tell me how much they bench.  Unless you are a competitive powerlifter I’ll bet that you have trouble answering this question for one person, let alone five.  The only person trainees are interested in is themselves.  That’s not a bad thing, its the way it should be.
  2. Permission to be strict.  If you drop the idea that you have to lift five more pound or one more rep than you did last week, you are less likely to let your form slip.  TUL has you chasing a feeling in your muscles, not an arbitrary target.  The powerlifters might argue but I am not talking about the powerlifters.  I’m talking to the guys who want to look good and stay in shape.
  3. The point of failure.  This goes back to the point about strict exercise form from the last point.  Do you want to train to failure?  I do, at least some of the time.  Failure gets hard to define when form degrades.  However, when the bar stops moving no matter how hard you push it, and you try to push it for the final five or ten seconds of a TUL set, failure has been reached.
  4. Injuries. Injuries suck.  No question about it.  Accidents happen and there is no way to avoid 100% of all training related problems but when you maintain strict form for a limited period of time you are less likely to wind up on the shelf due to a pull, a strain, or a tear.  Strict form also reduces the wear on your joints.  Ever see someone bounce out of the bottom of a heavy squat?  I have and my knees hurt just watching that guy.
  5. Mix it up.  Maybe you don’t want to switch to TUL permanently.  But why not try it?  Changing things up from time to time keeps it fresh, keeps the motivation high and keeps your body guessing.




photo credit: Stopwatch via photopin (license)

Twice now in the past seven days…

…I’ve read an article touting the benefits of increased workload.

I have nothing against more work, but both authors mentioned the same idea in support of the call for more reps, sets, or workouts.  The idea is that overtraining is a difficult state to achieve for all but the most gifted of athletes.

I don’t know if that is true or not, but I think it misses the point.  The point should be, why should you do more when you don’t have to?  That might sound like the statement of a lazy person or someone who does not like to train hard.

But that aint me!

The law of diminishing returns states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant (“ceteris paribus“), will at some point yield lower incremental per-unit returns.  The law of diminishing returns does not imply that adding more of a factor will decrease the total production, a condition known as negative returns, though in fact this is common.

Source – Wikipedia

I want to make progress.  I’ve spent the last thirty years chasing it.  I’ve gone through the extremes of six days per week double-split training and once per Mike Mentzer HIT style training.  The difference between the two has been more about what’s been accomplished outside the gym than inside.

More work beyond what’s necessary is counterproductive on some level.  If it doesn’t result in the damaging “overtrained” state, it takes time away from other things we all need to do.  Family, friends and work.

And write blog posts that two or three people might actually read.

Thanks for being one of them

photo credit: 27 push-ups later via photopin (license)

Do You Keep A Food Diary?

Keeping a training diary is easy.  Anyone who takes their workouts seriously does that.  Keeping a food diary is hard.  You eat four, five, even six times a day, every day and only train a few times a week.  Food diaries take true dedication.

Fortunately, there are shortcuts to make the process easier to handle.

Step 1 – Establish a consistent diet.  I understand if you deviate on the weekends, but during your workweek it makes sense to keep your diet consistent from day to day.  Eat similar foods, if not the exact same foods and quantities every day.  If you do that you don’t have to track five days, you only have to track one.  It makes the whole process so much easier.

Step 2 – Write it down.  I don’t recommend going straight to the app or the spreadsheet.  I like notebooks. Keep a notebook with you and write it down.  Write down what you eat, the approximate portions.   You don’t need a food scale.  Just take a guess.  Also keep track of the times that you eat during the day.  Charting the timing of your calories can mean as much as the calorie and protein counts.

Step 3 – Put the calories and macros in Excel.  I said don’t go straight to the spreadsheet.  I didn’t say to avoid it entirely.

After you have a few days or even a week of your eating written down, its time to put it in a spreadsheet.  I like columns for grams of protein, carbs and fat as well as calories.  Have your spreadsheet subtotal each meal.  As long as you follow step 1 above and stay consistent, you don’t have to write up each and every day. You only have to know the breakdown of your “base” diet.  Slight fluctuations from day to day are not important as long as you are holding steady in general.

Step 4 – Weigh yourself.  Do it weekly.  Do it at the same time of day.  Write it down.  After a few weeks you will be able to get an idea of how the scale is moving.  Week to week numbers are not so important.  Its the trend over months that gives you feedback.

Step 5 – Adjust.  If you followed the above four steps, you can tell if you are eating too much, too little, or just the right amount.  Ideally, you will figure out how much you need to maintain.  After that you can fine tune.

Fine tuning is a skill.  Don’t overreact to the changes on the scale.  Up or down a few hundred calories is enough.