Tag Archives: fitness

More Sweatember Action

It’s getting late in Sweatember, and I’ve only shared one workout. It’s time to take my Sweatember motivation to the blog and share more ideas.

My buddies at I Choose Awesome are a tough, energetic bunch of Australians. They have great ideas for challenging workouts, and I took one for a test drive this week. Give it a try.

Half An Hour of Power

Write down these six exercises on a piece of paper, and head to the gym. If you don’t know the exercises, the links have short videos:

Try the Half An Hour of Power workout

Try the Half An Hour of Power workout

Start your stopwatch. Do ten of the first exercise, then move onto the next one. When you’re done with all six, that’s one round. Start again from the top, and see how many rounds you can do in thirty minutes. (For what it’s worth, I managed 7 and a bit yesterday — couldn’t quite get to 8.)

Too Hard?

It’s ok if you can’t do a pull up, or you’re worried about a kettle bell clean. Substitute something easier until you’re ready for the full Half An Hour of Power.

For an easier time than a pull up, try a row. If you don’t like the sound of a kettle bell clean, pick up an object (such as a medicine ball) and put it down again. You can always do your push ups on your knees to make them easier. If you don’t like the sound of any exercise, replace it with another one; for example, if you don’t like the burpee, replace it with a abdominal crunch.

Have fun.

I’m not an exercise professional. Do this at your own risk. Talk to a professional before beginning an exercise program.

Welcome to Sweatember! Here’s a fun workout for you…

It’s Sweatember! I’m amping up the exercise for the month, before I descend into the darkness of Eatober. Anyway, this month, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite workouts, fitness ideas, and more.

We’re all time-crunched, so here’s my favorite, motivating workout that fits in around 30 minutes. You can warm up, get a tough whole-body workout, cool down, and shower in in less than an hour. It’ll make you fitter, stronger, and leaner. And it’s called satellites.

Choose Five Exercises

Satellites: a tough thirty minute workout, and nothing to do with the space variety.

Satellites: a tough thirty minute workout, and nothing to do with the space variety.

Pick five exercises that don’t exercise the same body parts, and that you can do within a small corner of the gym. You’re going to be moving between the exercises frequently, so make it easy to switch between any pair. You’re going to be doing each one (maybe) 80 times, so don’t make them too challenging.

Here’s a few examples that I like:

  • Push ups – there are tens of variations. An easy variation is to find something at chest height that you can lean against at a 45 degree angle. A hard variation is a regular push up with your feet raised on the stairs
  • Squats – on the easy end, sit in a chair, stand up, and sit down again. On the hard end, try that on one leg without allowing yourself to actually sit (just touch)
  • Abdominal crunches – there’s more variations on these guys than any other exercise
  • Burpees – the basic variant goes like this: start in a push up (plank) position, jump your feet forward, reach your hands up into the air, put your hands back on the ground, and jump back into the plank
  • Jump rope – it’s good to have an aerobic exercise in the mix

This morning I chose jump rope, medicine ball slams (ball above head, slam into ground, catch, repeat), burpees, kettle bell swings, and an abs exercise (that’d take too long to explain).

You could try inverted rows, riding a stationery bike, boxing, running across the basketball court, using the rowing machine, jumping (star jumps, box jumps, hopping, and so on), something new school with a kettlebell, or something old school that looks good in the mirror (bicep curls, shoulder presses).

Write your exercises down and number them 1 to 5

Here’s an example: (1) Push ups (2) Box jumps (3) One arm kettlebell swings (4) Inverted row (5) Burpees

Prepare for satellites

Here’s the concept: each time you work through the exercises, one of them is the “planet” and the others kind of orbit as “satellites”. You’re going to do five sets, since there are five exercises.

The first set, your first exercise is the “planet”, and you go back to it between each other exercise. You do exercise 1, then 2, then 1 again, then 3, then 1 again, then 4, then 1 again, and finally 5. Shorthand: 1-2-1-3-1-4-1-5.

Since we’re getting this done in 30 minutes total, let’s do 20 seconds of each exercise, and give ourselves 10 seconds to change exercises and rest. That means you’ll get through this set in 4 minutes: 160 seconds of exercising, and 80 seconds of resting. (If you want to be picky, it’s really 3:50 since you don’t need the rest at the end.)

Once you’re done, rest for 1 minute.

Now exercise 2 is the satellite, and so on:

  • Set 2: 2-3-2-4-2-5-2-1. Rest 1 minute
  • Set 3: 3-4-3-5-3-1-3-2. Rest 1 minute
  • Set 4: 4-5-4-1-4-2-4-3. Rest 1 minute
  • And, finally, Set 5: 5-1-5-2-5-3-5-4

Five sets, four minutes each, and four minutes of resting. All done in 24 minutes. 3 minutes to warm up, and 3 minutes to stretch when you’re done. Total 30 minutes. Plenty of time for the shower.

Timing your workout

Time is hard to track when you’re sweating it out. I’d suggest getting an app for your iPhone – I like Tabata Pro, though HiiTTimer is ok too. These beep when it’s time to move to the next exercise, and they play your music in the background. You can also buy a timer online that you can hang on your wall – just like they use in boxing gyms! If all else fails, use the online-stopwatch in your web browser.

If you want it tougher, increase the length of the exercises – try 30 or 45 seconds – or make the exercises tougher.

One last tip: I like to arrange my five exercises in a line on the ground. I might put my medicine ball next to my jump rope, next to my bosu ball, next to my towel, next to a kettle bell — all in a neat line. This helps me not make mistakes and get lost — I can see which exercise is number one, two, three, four, and five, and I can easily tell what’s next.

Give it a try — enjoy Satellites!

I’m not an exercise professional. Do this at your own risk. Talk to a professional before beginning an exercise program.

Setting Your Goals: 5 Steps to Creating Your Future

You need a plan to reach a destination that means something to you. Where are you headed this year? What about five years from now? If you could dream, where would you be in ten years?

Here’s a useful tool that I use to think about my goals. Every six months or so, I take a piece of paper and write down my goals. I take a photo with my iPhone, and make it my desktop wallpaper — and then it’s there to remind me every day for the next six months. I’ll explain in this post how I think about creating the goals.

I don’t know where I learnt this approach, or whether I invented it myself, but I was amused to find the same idea on a lululemon bag recently. Not only do they make great yoga and sportswear, they give great advice. You should shop there, if only so you can read the bag.

Advice to live your life by. On a shopping bag from lululemon.

1. Two career goals

Step one is to create two career goals for the next twelve months. What do you want to achieve in the next year?

Everyone who’s working probably has goals in a system somewhere, but these should be more personal. What do you want to learn to do better? What characteristic do you want to develop? How do you want to be perceived by the people around you? Where should your focus be? How do you want to direct your energy?

My recommendation is that your goal should be a few words that mean something to you. A short phrase that triggers a longer thought. Something you can glance at and consume.

2. Two health, fitness, and wellbeing goals

You’re getting to know me through my blog, so you won’t be surprised by this section. I’ve learnt that the number one priority in life is health; without health, you can’t look after your family, yourself, or your career.

So, now it’s time to write down two goals for the next twelve months that are about you and your health, fitness, and wellbeing. Do you want to get to a healthy weight? Eat right? Get exercising? Sleep better? Fix your posture? Take tests to check on family conditions? Or do you want to take it something to the next level? How about trying my ten tips for being fighting fit?

3. Two personal goals

The final step for planning this year is to think about your personal life and capture two points. Do you want to travel more with the family? Take up a hobby? Switch off from work on the weekends? Call your friends? Make new friends? Help the community? Give your time to a cause?

4. This year, in 5 years, and in 10 years

Steps one, two, and three give you six points to focus on for the next twelve months. I recommend repeating them to create a five year plan, and again to create a ten year plan. I enjoy this part the most: thinking about the next year is a little tactical, but turning a dream for the future into goals for the future is fun. This is where you get to think about who you want to be, what success is for you in life, and what you want to be doing in your career after you’ve made substantial progress. I’d recommend thinking about your larger financial goals, your wellbeing, what success is for your family, and what your perfect career looks like.

While you’re writing this, think about coherence: is the one year plan leading to the five year plan? Five year leading to the ten? One year leading to the ten? Don’t be afraid to go back and make adjustments. You want your one year plan to take you roughly 20% of the way to your five year goal.

When you’re done, you’ve got 18 points on a page. I can fit this easily on a small sheet. As I said, I keep the points very short and consumable in a glance. Then it’s photo time, and time to make it your desktop background.

5. Refresh

Every six months or so, you should refresh your goals. Read the previous entry, and make an honest assessment of how you’ve gone with your goals. Copy over the phrases you still like or that shouldn’t change, and make a few adjustments where you need. Don’t get too unhappy with yourself the first time around — I started by writing overly ambitious goals, and I’ve learnt that it’s better to write down achievable goals that push me in the right direction. I don’t tend to change the ten year goals, and I rarely tweak the five year goals. I often make changes to the one year plan, but always in the context of asking: is this helping me get from today to my five year goals?

This is an enjoyable exercise for me, and an investment in thinking about myself. I hope you find it useful too. Let me know how it goes.

The don’t eat grains mantra: why it makes sense

I listed my top ten tips for getting in fighting fit shape in this blog post. Tip #1 (“Don’t eat grains”) seems to be controversial with some, so I thought I’d explain a little more of why it works for me and makes staying at a healthy body weight easy.

Plan A: Measure and Track your Caloric Intake

Here’s the traditional thing that most folks do: they work out how many calories they should be consuming, with a focus on making sure they consume slightly less than they burn. If you eat much less than you burn, your body panics, starts breaking down muscle instead of fat, and counter-productive things happen. The trick is consuming a little less than you burn, and your body dips into its fat reserves, and healthy weight loss happens. Again, take all this with a grain of salt: I’m a computer scientist, not a nutritionist, and you should do your own research and get your own plan from a professional.

So, let’s try that. There’s a variety of sites that let you figure out how many calories you’re probably burning, enter how much you weigh, add a bunch of other data, and then suggest what your caloric intake should be given your body weight goal and a healthy weight loss rate. Here’s a tool from dietitian.com that’s linked to by the US Food and Nutrition Center at the USDA. When I enter my data, and say that I want to drop my body fat by 1%, and lose 1 pound per week to do it, it tells me to eat about 1700 calories per day; that is outrageously low and wrong. Ok, so now I’ll try another US government tool, the “SuperTracker” at ChooseMyPlate.gov. It tells me I should eat 2800 calories per day; that seems a little high, but in the ball park. The guys at Fitness Wave do hydrostatic body testing, where they put you in a tank and figure out your body fat percentage fairly accurately, and they tell me I should eat 2800 calories per day to maintain weight. Another tool I’ve played with is MyNetDiary, and it says I should eat about 2400 calories.

So, I’m confused. And if you get this wrong, you’re either going to starve and bad things will happen, or put on weight. Most of us should find a nutritionist, otherwise it really is a guessing game until you figure it out through experimentation. Of course, you can try eating roughly to an approximate sensible target, and measure what happens over a few weeks. But, anyway, since we’re trying to put together “Plan A” in this blog post, let’s go with 2600 calories per day as a guesstimate for maintaining my current weight.

Ok, so let’s pretend I’ve fallen out of bed, headed downstairs, and I’m grabbing breakfast. Let’s say I eat steel-cut oats with fruit and nuts and 1% milk, and have a Starbucks tall latte on the way to work. Total price tag from MyNetDiary is 753 calories. I hit the gym, and grab a Starbucks apple bran muffin and another coffee at 10am: 510 calories. At 12, I grab a sandwich at work with two pieces of wholegrain bread, some chicken breast, two slices of cheese, tomato, and lettuce: 454 calories. By 3pm, I’m dragging, and grab another coffee and a Clif bar from the food machine: 430 calories. Now it’s dinner time: I decide to have a stir fry, with rice, chicken, and some vegetables: 510 calories. No after dinner snack for me today. Total: 2657 calories.

So, I’m pretty close to the 2600 calories, remembering the target isn’t science. I’m probably not gaining or losing weight, and I ate reasonably well — do you eat better or worse? If I was eating slices of pizza for lunch, waffles for breakfast, eating candy, drinking soda, or hitting take out for dinner, we’d be blasting into the 3000+ territory easily, and then we’re packing on the weight.

In practice, what makes or breaks this kind of plan is meticulous tracking, and having an accurate target that accounts for your goal, your output (exercise), and your inputs. It can work if you work hard.

What makes it hard is the high-carb foods. If I threw in a couple of slices of toast with honey for breakfast, you can add 170 calories to the total (and I could easily do that on the weekend, or even eat four slices for lunch). A cup of rice is 220 calories — if I eat 1.5 or 2 cups with my stirfry instead of 1, it’s goodbye to the plan for the day. A bowl of pasta (say 1.5 cups of plain old spaghetti with sauce) is 330 calories.

Of course, sometimes you need a blast of energy, and this high carb loading is a good thing. If I was hitting the hills on the mountain bike for three hours, it’s probably a good idea. If I was a marathon runner who’s training hard, I’d need this kind of intake. But most of the time, I’m a sedentary office worker (even though I probably do a good 60 to 90 minutes of exercise each day of some material form). So I don’t need the energy, and I don’t want my insulin spiking, and my body storing it as fat for the apocalypse…

Anyway, I’ve given this a good college try, and it doesn’t work for me. Too much measuring, recording, counting. Too much going over the goal by lunch, and winding up hungry later on to hit the goal. Too complicated.

Plan B: Skip the grains

Here’s the non-traditional thing to do: skip the grains, and go easy on the high-sugar foods (don’t eat anything with more than 10g of sugar per 100g of product).

I’ve got an awesome breakfast that I cook every morning. It’s a kind of souffle pancake filled with fruit and nuts. The ingredients are eggs, fruit, nuts, vanilla, and cinnamon — I’ll make a video of how I make it sometime, and take this blog into youtube cooking land. But, bottom line, when I eat it, it’s mighty big and I’m full, full of energy, and happy. It’s about 400 calories in total.

After the gym, I have a small handful of nuts, some carrots or snap peas or celery, and some turkey jerky. Again, gets me back to feeling full, and restores my energy.

At lunch, it’s salad with lean meat. I’ll have a massive portion of chicken and spinach, and sometimes throw in plenty of colorful greens. For a mid-afternoon snack, I have another massive portion of chicken and salad. Effectively, I’m eating two lunches per day.

For dinner, I stick with meats, vegetables, and salads, and that means lots of BBQs / cookouts, and plenty of spice in the food we cook. Last night, I had roasted tri-tip, a spinach and sweet potato salad with a lemon dressing, and a delicious shredded lettuce, almond, and carrot salad with a yummy dressing.

All up, I love breakfast, and I love dinner. The rest can be a bit of a chore, but I am certainly always eating and feeling full. And who said that food has to be a hedonistic experience at every meal anyway?

When I put this into a tool, even with plenty of different variations, it’s always either on my target, or slightly under. And even when I throw in a glass of wine, or a sweet treat at the end of the day, I’m never over by more than a couple of hundred calories. It’s pretty hard to miss when you don’t eat grains, and you steer clear of the high sugar stuff.

I also feel great on Plan B — I just plain feel better from having given up grains, and steering clear of high sugar foods. My digestion is better, and when I mess up and eat wheat, I feel sick. That’s converted me — if I feel great without grains, and terrible when I eat them, then I don’t need them in my life.

Am I short on any nutrient and do I get enough fiber? No and yes. I eat an amazing variety of vegetables and fruits, nuts and meats, and spices and condiments. From my tracking, it looks like I’m spot on where I need to be. I don’t need “whole wheat” (lots of carbs with some indigestible fiber stuff attached) to somehow be magically healthier — there’s no problem that needs solving.

The Bottom Line

I’ve tried two basic ways to get to a healthy weight and maintain it: calorie counting and planning, or just avoiding grains and high sugar foods.

Calorie counting is too complicated for me, and prone to big, bad misses that are fueled by messing up when I eat high carb foods. I’ve never been successful following Plan A. How about you?

Avoiding grains is a basic rule, and it doesn’t require meticulous recording and counting to be roughly right, day after day. The bonus of avoiding grains for me is that I also feel better, perhaps I’m slightly gluten intolerant and blissfully lived most of my life not knowing (and now I feel better!). I’ve been successful on Plan B.

If you’re interested in Plan B, perhaps you should have a chat to a nutritionist, and see if giving a grain-free eating plan is right for you. Ask them if you should try it for 30 days, and then share your data with my readers, and let’s see where the thinking goes.

Fighting fit: Why you need to be in top shape to be a leader

People are surprised I lead a team of over 700 people and find time to stay in shape. For me, one isn’t possible without the other. And my advice to you is to take your physical wellbeing seriously if you want to have impact over the long haul.

I believed for a long time that my impact at work was simply the product of the quantity of time by the quality of how I used it. Quantity just means hours spent. Quality means what I spend those hours doing, that is, how effectively I use my time.  I’ve never met a successful person who doesn’t work hard and use their time effectively. And for you that means: work hard and smart, and you’ll have the basic ingredients for success.

But it turns out for me that this basic equation doesn’t work for the long haul. There are two other ingredients for me: physical and mental condition. If my physical condition is great — I am fighting fit— then I’m alert, less stressed, positive, less prone to illness, confident, balanced, and slower to burn out. Being mentally in top shape is critical too, particularly making sure I find meaning in what I’m doing, and getting the balance right between family and work time (a topic for another time). So, these days I’d argue that my impact at work is something like: quantity times quality times physical condition times mental condition (with some constants that I don’t yet understand). In this post, I’m going to tell you why you should stay fighting  fit too.

This is an entirely non-technical post from a primarily technical person. Take it with a grain of salt, and see your doctor before you take any of my advice.

Top 10 Tips for being Fighting Fit ™

Let me just cut to the chase, and tell you the top ten things that you can use to be fighting fit:

  1. Don’t eat wheat. Better still, don’t eat grains
  2. Avoid high sugar foods. If it has more than 10g of sugar per 100g of product, don’t eat it
  3. Drink lots of water. Aim for at least 96oz or 3 litres per day
  4. Get a decent night’s sleep. It feels to me like 8+ hours is the sweet spot
  5. Have a big breakfast
  6. Have a small dinner
  7. Work the big muscles with resistance training three times per week
  8. Stretch
  9. Do cardiovascular exercise
  10. Ignore the above nine items for just one day each week (and be perfect the other six)

That’s in priority order. The top six are all about nourishment, the next three are about fitness, and the last one is a rule that governs how to apply the others.

To be fighting fit, it’s 70% nutrition and 30% exercise. I’ve worked incredibly hard at exercise and weighed 15 pounds more than I do today. These days, I’m pretty much at my high school weight, stronger than I’ve ever been, and the difference is nutrition (and perhaps more focus on strength or resistance training).

Nutrition

Do you want to be 15 pounds lighter? Follow rule #1 and you’ll be well on your way. Don’t eat grains because they’re full of carbohydrates, and that causes insulin to spike, and the body to enthusiastically store carbohydrates as body fat. Same with high sugar foods like sodas. Instead, eat more protein, and healthy fats. I’m big on egg whites, nuts, avocado, meats, and so on. Try a salad for lunch, with plenty of chicken, turkey, or tuna.

Fats don’t make you fat. Fats are just an intense source of energy, and you need to avoid eating too much. Eat nuts, avocado, egg yolks, and other healthy fats in moderation. Carbohydrates are the bad news problem.

Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated, and your metabolism running efficiently. Everything I read says drinking lots of water is a good idea.

I eat a massive breakfast, and try and go easy at dinner (though I struggle to do that effectively). The rationale is that in the morning, I need energy to get through the day. In the evening, I’m going to bed, so there’s no sense in consuming a ton of calories. Try and tilt your plan in that direction.

If that’s all too hard, follow rule#1: don’t eat wheat. You’ll get somewhere, trust me.

Exercise

Exercising is my passion. I hit the gym four or five days a week, run a couple of times per week, do yoga once a week, and add in some exercise at home (like mountain biking, boxing, jump rope, or agility work) on the weekends. It just plain makes me feel great, lowers my stress, and gives me space and time to think about ideas and problems that are important in life and work.

How do I fit all that in? Pretty simply, really: I just make it my number one priority. When I was at Microsoft, my motto was “I’m not canceling the gym for anyone except Bill Gates”. And I stuck to it and still do. My rationale is that the company needs me to be effective for the long haul, and this is what makes me effective. I’m happy to be at work any time I’m not in the gym.

I’ve learnt that to be fighting fit, you need to do more strength training and less cardiovascular exercise. The nice thing about strength training is you burn some calories while you’re in the gym, and then a lot more afterwards: your body is busy repairing and growing the muscles you’ve worked. Most cardio burns more per minute in the gym than strength training while you’re doing it, but then the burn stops afterwards. Focus on your big muscles: leg and butt, chest, core, and muscles that help you maintain a reasonable posture (given you likely sit around a lot in front of computers). Working those muscles burns more calories than the ones you see in the mirror (you can skip the biceps). Get a personal trainer, ask them to put together a strength training routine, and do it 2 or 3 times per week. The results will amaze you.

It turns out that exercising hard requires maintenance. Maintenance for me is stretching, and I use yoga as the key way to do that. Yoga is seriously hard work: it requires core strength, balance, and flexibility. I’m not good at it, but it’s helping me be flexible and loose, and that helps me stay fighting fit.

I like cardio, I love going for a run (that’s something I’ve been doing regularly since 1995). I also love riding my bike. So, I get out and do some. But strength training is the key: if you don’t have much time, skip the cardio and go do some strength training.

Cheating

I try hard to be good for six days in every seven. I have no trouble doing that with exercise. But with food it’s harder. One day a week, I let loose. I do whatever I want, and that gives me willpower for the rest of the week.

This is really important for you: cheat every day and you will get nowhere. If you want to be fighting fit, be disciplined six days out of seven.

Final Thoughts

Personal training is a great investment. I’d recommend to you that you get a personal trainer: it makes strength training safe and challenging, and helps you learn about how to make yourself fighting fit. Getting some nutritional advice from a nutritionist is a great idea too; diets are the worst thing in the world, it’s far smarter to eat to a plan and enjoy the results.

So that’s my Fighting Fit plan to make you an effective leader for the long haul. Remember the basics: don’t eat wheat, avoid high sugar foods, get in some strength training 2 or 3 times per week, and cheat once per week. You will be a fighting fit machine in no time (and I look forward to hearing about your results).

Please don’t blindly copy my plan. Please talk to your doctor, fitness professional, or nutritionist. And remember that I am a computer scientist, so you should Read My Disclaimer.

An Afterword of Thanks

My trainer is David Macchi in the eBay gym. Dave’s awesome: he’s taught me hundreds of exercises, and got me working on muscles that help posture and keep me balanced. He’s also good on the nutrition tips, and pushes me that little bit harder than I’d push myself. We’ve also partnered together on programs to help get our technology team at eBay more active, and help charity at the same time. I’m working hard to spread the fighting fit message.

Cheat day, and focusing harder on nutrition, is a strategy I learnt by participating in a “12 week challenge” with the I Choose Awesome guys in Inverloch, Australia. Great guys, and I owe them a bunch of thanks for helping me explore more about being fighting fit. They also taught me some sayings:  “Nothing tastes as good as lean feels” and “Pain is just weakness leaving the body”. You might need those sayings.

My trainer when I lived in Redmond, Washington, and worked at Microsoft, was Dirk Huebner. Dirk got me excited about agility drills, Fartlek training, and medicine balls. Another great guy to know.