Hey, I’m Steve.
I’ve been running this site, Nerd Fitness, for about seven years now. Before that, I trained in a gym for six years trying to get in the best shape possible. But I struggled. Struggled to make consistent progress. Struggled because it always seemed like three steps forward, 2.9 (or 3.1) steps backwards, month after month, year after year.
Two years ago, my mentality changed. I stopped asking “when will I arrive?” and instead realized that I will never actually get there.
With this mindset I created a new strategy, and today I stand (well, sit) before you a changed person – physically and mentally. I’m 20+ pounds (of muscle) heavier, stronger and more resilient than ever, and believe that every day is an opportunity to set a new personal best.
I did it by refusing to focus on the “end.” In other words, I stopped worrying about “before and after.” Instead I just focused finding goals and quests that excited me each day.
In fact, I hadn’t noticed just how much I had changed until I looked at a video fromNerd Fitness from three years ago that made my jaw drop (picture above). It really hit home when I went to get fitted for a tux two weeks ago and the guy taking my measurements said “well, this won’t fit right because you’re built like Captain America.”
Alarm bells went off in my brain: “HOLY CRAP. I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear somebody tell me that. And it happened after I FORGOT about this very goal.”
I don’t think that was a coincidence.
Here’s how I stopped worrying about my after and started living every day in the “during.”
There’s No “After.”
I imagine that nearly everybody who stumbles across Nerd Fitness is here because they want to change their appearance. It’s certainly why I started exercising! And I have NO problem with that.
After all, as the Rules of the Rebellion state: “We don’t care where you came from, only where you’re going.”
As a skinny, weak person for most of my life, I wanted to feel comfortable and confident in my own skin. Thanks to the BS found in magazines and other marketing tricks, I was convinced in my early years of training that I was only 30-60 days away from transforming. I thought I could “sprint” from where I was to where I wanted to be, and then I could settle back into a less crazy routine. Because I was in such a hurry to change from the “before” to the “after,” I would go ALL-IN on training and eating for a short period of time.
Unsurprisingly, this resulted in me burnt out or injured. If the changes did come, they didn’t stick for any long period of time due to “life getting in the way.”
It was only until I started of thinking of progress in “years and years” instead of “weeks and months” that my mentality finally shifted.
This was a tough pill to swallow. I had to put my “after” goals on hold, and instead just did what needed to get done every day. I had to change my mentality: there is no after, only “during.”
I initially thought “Ugh, Years!?! That’s gonna take too long.” And then I thought back to how little sustainable progress I had made in the previous 10 years and knew things needed to change. Today I look back and can’t be more relieved that I made this choice.
In two, five, or ten years, what choice do you wish you’d have made now? The one that puts you on a “30 day diet” or workout plan? Or one that instills changes for the long term?
There’s a reason why a recent study suggests we’re doomed to stay fat: temporary diet changes and temporary workout plans don’t work!
If you want to change your appearance in the long term, your normal life (how you live every day) has to change. Every day you are building a new normal: a sustainable way of eating, sleeping, and exercising that gets you a tiny bit closer to where you want to be.
Appearance is a consequence of fitness
Want to know how I was finally able to make progress and transform my appearance after 11 years of actively trying to change it?
By NOT focusing on it so damn much!
For the past two years, I have cared less about what the scale says or how I look in a mirror, and instead put my focus on one thing: am I stronger and more badass today than yesterday? Am I doing better this week than last week? Every week for the past two years, I have followed a workout plan that is incrementally more difficult in a tiny way than the previous week.
For example, here’s my last five weeks of work on overhead presses:
- Week one: 5/5/5 x 136 lbs
- Week two: 6/5/5 x 136 lbs
- Week three: 6/6/5 x 136 lbs
- Week four: 6/6/6 x 136 lbs
- Week five: 5/5/5 x 137 lbs
Look how boring that is! Each week, I’m increasing this lift by ONE total repetition. After reaching a certain level, I’m adding just ONE pound to the bar (I bought these fractional plates so I can lift just one pound more).
The same goes for my deadlifts. Every week, I’m adding just one pound to my lift, before going for a 1-rep max once per month. As someone with splondylothesis, I used to think I’d never deadlift heavy again. In fact, I’ve had to yell at myself throughout this process to be patient and be okay with this pace. I knew that when I tried it the other way, progress just didn’t stick.
So despite the seemingly snail’s pace, I’m now stronger than ever and almost at my epic quest goal of a 405 deadlift (here I am in November lifting 385 lbs).
My progress on other movements is even tougher to see, but I’m now doing some really crazy and fun things like gymnastic rings work to muscle ups to front lever practice.
You see, appearance is a consequence of fitness. I just put my focus on getting stronger, and eating in a way to accomplish that goal daily. That “stronger” might be the teeniest of tiniest increments, but when done consistently, sustainably, over a long period of time… big permanent changes can result.
Accountability, priority, routine
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another crucial reason why I was able to make sustained progress over the past two years: I made my health a priority. I wrote about “why you need to be selfish sometimes” on Nerd Fitness before.
After years of starting and stopping, blaming it on Nerd Fitness getting too busy, or life being too hectic, I finally put my foot down. I made two crucial decisions:
1) I stopped trying to go it alone. That’s right. I found that when I had to program my own workouts, I would often skip the last few exercises that I just didn’t feel like doing. After all, who would notice! However, over the past two years I’ve been following workouts that have been created by somebody else, and I have to check in with that person! Suddenly I can’t use my old tired excuses, and I just do the work – after all, that’s why I pay for it!
If I miss a workout or take a week off “because life got busy,” I have somebody to answer to. It sucks, it’s embarrassing, and oftentimes this gets me to go to the gym when I’m tired or busy, or trying to use all these other bullshit excuses.
I think it’s why we have found so many people have found success with The Nerd Fitness Academy or Nerd Fitness Yoga – you value things differently when you invest your hard-earned money in them, and you actually DO the stuff when somebody else is telling you to do them. If you’re struggling to stay in shape, do you have somebody keeping you accountable? Do you have a workout plan to follow? Those two steps alone have change my life. Hat tip to my friendAnthony for creating my workouts for me!
2) I prioritized my health and fitness. Mostly, I stopped accepting excuses from myself, and stopped relying on motivation. Instead, I manufactured discipline in my life. I ruthlessly removed unnecessary time-wasting activities from my life and got better at managing my time. Here’s what I did:
- I schedule every workout in my calendar. Every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 10:00 AM, I go to the gym. If I’m traveling on a training day, I make it up for IMMEDIATELY, no matter what, the next day and get back on schedule.
- I have been intermittent fasting the whole time. I train in a fasted state (not eating before my workout), and eat all of my daily calories between 12pm and 8pm. This is called intermittent fasting, and has helped me slowly put on muscle without adding much fat to my frame.
- I have prioritized food. I eat a paleo-ish diet. I eat the same thing every day at Chipotle. It’s an expense that I’m willing to pay – the location is right across the street from my gym, and it’s the most efficient way to get enough quality calories, carbs, protein, and fat immediately following my workout.
- I removed distracting activities from my life. I am now way more efficient with my “work hours,” blocking Facebook and time wasting websites. I don’t play video games or watch TV unless I have done everything else that day that needs to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I still binge watch shows occasionally (Making a Murderer!) and play video games (Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate!), I just do this stuff strategically.
- Sleep has been prioritized. When I relocated to New York City, I made sure to spend money on a quality mattress and blackout curtains. As a cheapskate, this was a huge challenge for me. However, sleep is one of the most important elements of a healthy life. I don’t play games late at night, I don’t have a TV in my bedroom, and I make sure I’m sleeping as much as possible.
Where Were You, Two Years Ago?
You might be reading this and saying to yourself, “Ugh, Steve. I need to feel better now! I can’t wait two years!” Ask yourself, where were you two years ago? How different are you now compared to then?
Remember, you never really “arrive.”
If you’re hoping that getting to a certain pant size or seeing your abs will suddenly make you happy, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s the fitness equivalent of “if I just had a bigger house, I’d be happy.”
All photos in Nerd Fitness success stories are “before and during” shots. My photos here are “during” shots. I’m never going to get to a magical moment where I “made it,” so I’ve stopped worrying about that moment. Instead, I’m just focused on being stronger and fitter today than yesterday, and eating in a way that helps me make that happen.
I have no idea where I’ll be two years from now. My goals might change. My lifestyle might change. So I’m not worried about it. Instead, I’m just worried about being better and stronger today than I was yesterday.
I’d love to hear from you:
What’s a longstanding mentality you’ve had that will change to help you find permanent growth and progress with your health and fitness?
How can you remind yourself daily of this new “identity?”