5 Exercise Progressions to Build Strength

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” or so the saying goes. And in the weight room, this mantra is often translated to “When the lift gets easier, add more weight.” For most gym junkies, increasing weight is the go-to method for upping the difficulty of an exercise. This makes sense for the most part. When your buddies want to estimate your gym prowess, they normally ask how much you can lift on the bench press or the squat. Rarely, does someone ask how many single-leg squats you can do or if you can stand on a stability ball and do a set of squats.

Weight isn’t the only thing that matters in the gym. I had a great time outlining different progressions methods with help from Rob Sulaver on DailyBurn. You can read the entire piece here.

The Pros and Cons of Cheat Days

Cupcakes, ice cream, brownies — all treats you might not expect to find on your average healthy eater’s food log. However, for one eagerly anticipated day during the week or month, these no-no’s become the indulgences of choice for many of even the strictest dieters. “Cheat days,” or planned days of nutritional splurges, have become increasingly popular as a way for health-conscious individuals to enjoy their favorite foods without the guilt. The treats are seen as a way to keep spirits high and help dieters maintain adherence during the week.

But, is this “cheating” really beneficial in the long run? And if so, is it possible to “cheat” without feeling the effects or seeing them on the scale? We consulted with the experts to help you decide if you should bend the dietary rules occasionally and how to do it appropriately.

This was a fun piece to write. I was able to collaborate with Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Dr. Melanie Greenberg, and personal trainer and entrepreneur, Joe Vennare, to bring advice and insight from all angles. You can read the entire post here.

May 2014 Review

May came and went without any major habit-building actions on my part, largely because the early parts of the month were spent camping in Zion National Park and exploring Key West for my bachelor party making it difficult to practice my planned habit of taking a cold shower every day. I also completely dropped off the map with my meditation habit and failed to foam roll and stretch most evenings before bed. All-in-all, this month could be considered a failure. I did however finish quite a few books:

So, a down month in the habit-building department ended up being a stellar month in the book-reading arena. I’m hoping to repeat the literary feat this month. I have the following books lined up:

The Sports Gene is on the way (Ordered used).

The Sports Gene is on the way (Ordered used).

Just a note, those aren’t affiliate links at all so don’t worry about buying after clicking them. I just leave them there in case you want to find out more about the book.

I’m also slowly making my way through Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. The language of the book and the amount of highlighting and note-taking I’m doing makes this a slow read. I’m reading a little bit each day with no real goal of finishing quickly. I ended up buying the book and doing a bit of a deeper dive into Stoicism following The Obstacle is the Way and listening to this episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast with Ryan Holiday.

As far as writing goes, I had two pieces published this month:

I’m eager to jump back on the self-improvement train over the next month. I don’t have one specific habit that I’m going to work on, but I do have a general idea of an area of my life/personality I want to improve.

I’m a compulsive email-checker. I normally check email first thing in the morning and have it constantly going on my phone for fear of missing something skipping through my inbox. As a result, I’m constantly refreshing my inbox every five minutes only to be “disappointed” when nothing new pops up. All of that email checking is likely a waste of time. I wish there was an app that wouldn’t refresh your email more than three times a day or at specific intervals you choose. That would be wonderful.

Instead, I’m going to rely on willpower to help tame this obsessive habit that likely steals hours or more from my week. It’s not necessarily new. FastComany recently published a piece on the same topic. I don’t have a set number of times I’m going to check my email during the day, but I do have a few rules in place:

  • I’m going to turn off email on my phone so I have to be by a computer when I want to check it.
  • I’m not going to check email within an hour of waking up or within one to two hours of going to sleep.
  • My email checking will be appropriated to specific intervals (mainly morning-ish, lunch, and as an end to the work day)

Rather than checking email in the morning and hoping straight onto my computer, I’m going to spend at least 30 minutes reading, which will help me get through my never-ending Amazon wish list of books. I’ve also switched over to paperback books for this month so I don’t have a digital device staring me in the face first thing in the morning. Plus, reading on my iPad presents the temptation to scan Twitter or check my email instead of actually reading. The only downside to paperback books so far is the inability to read in bed after the lights have gone off. I’m currently battling that issue with an awkward camping headlight situation. If I keep this physical book fetish up any longer, I’ll have to invest in a reading light of some sort.

If you have any habits that you practiced this month or books you particularly enjoyed, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Super Freakonomics

Title: Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
Authors: Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
Published: Oct. 20, 2009

I’ve been reading this book off and on for about a year. For one reason or another, I couldn’t fully immerse myself in it from start to finish despite loving the overall concept and listening to the Freakonomics podcast every week. With their new book coming out, Think Like a Freak, I thought it was finally time to deliver the finishing blow.

The unique thinking and exploration behind ideas and commonly-held beliefs is what makes Freakonomics such an interesting book. Levitt and Dubner do a fantastic job of breaking down the what’s and why’s behind topics child seat belts and prostitution. The conclusions are likely not what you would expect.

One topic I found more interesting than any other in the book was global warming. The authors spoke with Nathan Myhrvrold, a former Microsoft employee, and the team at Intellectual Ventures, a team of bioengineers that are on a mission to solve various world issues like AIDS and malaria in addition to global warming. Levitt and Dubner dive into the misconceptions surrounding global warming and carbon dioxide levels. Myhrvrold and his team explain their ideas to help solve the issue of global warming including long pipes to pump sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere (not as harmful as you would think) and boats designed to increase cloud formation over the ocean (not as expensive as you would think).

Perhaps more beneficial than the actual dives into the various topics is the underlying mental models that encourage readers to question what they think they know. I love books that encourage a different way of thinking, and Super Freakonomics does just that. If you’re a big fan of Gladwell or are interested in picking up a different kind of non-fiction that strays outside of the norm, I’d encourage you to give Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics a shot.

The Obstacle is the Way

Author: Ryan Holiday
Title: The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
Published: May 1, 2014

I’ve been a huge fan of Holiday’s work since I first stumbled across his blog. I thoroughly enjoyed his first book, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, and his short primer on Growth Hacker Marketing. Having read quite a bit of his work, I always appreciate his unusual aspect on various subjects. When Holiday announced that he was putting out a new book concerning overcoming obstacles and guidance from his favorite Stoic authors, I was intrigued.

The book is largely based on the philosophy of Stoicism, which is a practice of deep reflection, emotion regulation, and focused action used to appreciate, benefit, and dominate the world around you. Holiday draws on examples from famous historic figures like Ulysses S. Grant and George Washington. He references the work of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. In each case, Holiday is helping readers to understand how even the most horrid of situations can be flipped to become an advantage. Take, for example, the story of Thomas Edison:

At age sixty-seven , Thomas Edison returned home early one evening from another day at the laboratory. Shortly after dinner, a man came rushing into his house with urgent news: A fire had broken out at Edison’s research and production campus a few miles away.

Fire engines from eight nearby towns rushed to the scene, but they could not contain the blaze. Fueled by the strange chemicals in the various buildings, green and yellow flames shot up six and seven stories, threatening to destroy the entire empire Edison had spent his life building.

Edison calmly but quickly made his way to the fire, through the now hundreds of onlookers and devastated employees, looking for his son. “Go get your mother and all her friends,” he told his son with childlike excitement. “They’ll never see a fire like this again.” (Kindle Locations 1777-1783)

Despite that setback that year, Edison went on to generate a revenue of $10 million from his lab, quite the comeback from having everything you’ve ever worked on burned to the ground.

Holiday outlines how to overcome obstacles we will all face in our own lives in three parts:

  1. Perception – Flipping how we see and understand what is happening around us
  2. Action – How to create directed action to achieve what we’re looking for
  3. Will – How we keep moving forward even when it seems like we have no control over the situation and our backs are against the wall

Per the usual for Holiday’s writing, the work is absolutely filled with research and references. I always appreciate how well he backs up his thoughts with quotes and anecdotes from the past. Don’t go into this book expecting a step-by-step solution to getting what you want. Instead, Holiday presents a framework designed to help you change how you approach situations and how to make the best of the worst circumstances.

At a time where it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless against powerful opposition, this book is a roadmap for achieving. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new perspective on how to shape your thoughts and actions to be more successful.

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