How to Stop Stress Eating (3 Strategies)

How to Stop Stress Eating (3 Strategies)


This LEGO looks worried, probably because he doesn't know what to eat.

All of us have plenty of stress in our lives.

In the modern world, it’s almost a given.

If you find yourself responding by “stress eating,” know that you are not alone.

One of the top issues faced by clients in our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program is emotional or stress eating. It actually seems to increase in occurrence year over year.




Today, we’re going to show you exactly how we address emotional eating with our clients, including when it’s – GASP – actually okay to stress eat. 

Here’s what we’ll cover in today’s guide:

Let’s jump right in.

What Is Stress Eating? (A Video from NF Kitchen)

The above video from Coach Justin comes from the Nerd Fitness Prime “Mindset” video series

Justin covers three important lessons I want to highlight, but before we do that, we should ask ourselves a question: 

“What exactly is stress eating?”

Stress eating is consuming food in response to negative emotions like fear, anger, or sadness.

When we stress eat, food is being used to solve a problem. Now, unless we’re actually hungry, it’s likely a problem that food itself isn’t meant to solve.

That’s stress or emotional eating.

Here’s what compounds the whole problem: stress eating itself can make us feel guilty. We often feel terrible once our spoon hits the bottom of the pint of ice cream.

This can drive more negative emotions, which can trigger even MORE stress eating.

And the pattern continues.

A gif of Tina saying "I'm out of control."

We’ll talk about ways to break this cycle in a moment, but before we do, we need to create some tools to identify it in the first place. 

What Causes Stress Eating? (Lesson #1: Playing Detective)

a picture of Detective Pikachu

You may have been surprised in our video above when Coach Justin gives permission to stress eat.

Counterintuitive and seemingly counterproductive, I know. But this is going to be important for two reasons.

How to Approach Stress Eating:

Step #1: we need to curb the guilty feelings about stress or emotional eating. 

I started this guide off by highlighting the frequency of stress eating amongst our Online Coaching clients

You are not the only one struggling with this.

Most humans do.

And robots with human-like emotions and taste buds

A gif of Eva, who might be craving some food because of stress.

We’ll come back to this idea again, because ending the shame of emotional eating will be critical for moving forward. 

Step #2: allowing ourselves to stress eat will help us learn why we do it.

We’re going to be playing detective here, to see if we can piece apart your actions and routines.

This man's book says "how to be a detective" so you know it's legit

At the end of the day, our lives are a cumulation of habits. Stress eating is one such habit.

So let’s learn about it!

To do so, we’re gonna record some Emotional Eating Notes

During an episode of stress eating, it’s important to ask:

  • What am I doing?
  • What am I feeling? (Both physically and emotionally)
  • What am I thinking about?
  • What time is it?
  • Where am I?
  • Who am I with?

Also, gauging these at different times can be helpful too.

How is your stress looking:

  • An hour or two before the eating episode?
  • Right before it?
  • During it?
  • Right after it?

The purpose of these Emotional Eating Notes?

Look for patterns!

Detective Pikachu is holding up a magnifying glass in this gif.

Perhaps you’ll notice some of the following:

  • “After my recent Tuesday morning conference call, when I got grilled by my company’s leadership, I grabbed some chocolate chip cookies. This happened the week before too.”
  • “Around 2pm, when I get the ‘afternoon slumps,’ I normally grab a Coca-Cola. This little boost gets me through the end of the day. This is almost a daily practice.”
  • “Last Sunday evening, when thinking about the start of the work week, I had a couple of glasses of wine. When looking back at my notes, this takes place at the end of most weekends.”

We’re looking for patterns to help us understand what drives our stress eating. 

The most important thing about this process: withholding judgment.

We’re looking at our notes for clues into our psyche. Whatever we captured is okay.

If you order pizza every Thursday after talking with your overbearing mom (of course, she means well), step one is to recognize it.

Oftentimes, this awareness step alone can help shift behavior. “Oh, I’m reaching for a beer like I normally do after ending my workday. Typical Me.”

After creating some notes on what spurs our emotional eating, it’s time to think about some alternatives for coping with stress.

How Do I Stop Mindless Eating? (Lesson #2: The Stress Response Menu)

This photo has two LEGO characters in it, with one holding their stress response menu.

After documenting what sets off our stress eating, we need to formulate a plan on what to do when our anxiety rises.

That means it’s time to build…a Stress Response Menu!

Our Stress Response Menu will be a list of actions or activities you can do to de-stress outside of eating.

Ideally, you’ll do them before an eating episode, but they can be done during or after the fact too.

In other words, if you only realized you were stress eating when your hand reaches the bottom of the Doritos bag, no problem, you can do your stress response activity right then. 

The purpose of the Stress Response Menu is to reward yourself with a small moment of self-love, whenever your anxiety levels are too much.

Examples for a Stress Response Menu:

A gif of Grandpa Simpson shouting at a cloud.

The more the activity from your Stress Response Menu can match your personal goals, the better. 

In other words, if you’re trying to build muscle, some push-ups might be the perfect de-stressor. 

Just make sure it’s something you won’t dread doing. 

A combination of a “de-stressor” and a “reward.”

This is important, as Coach Justin mentions that many of his clients only reward themselves with food. The self-love they practice only takes place in the kitchen. 

Our menu above will help us develop some more options, not solely based on food.

To make the most of your Stress Response Menu:

#1) Make the activities short and easy. 

You should feel confident that you can do every item on your list. So avoid activities that will take longer than 10 minutes to complete. 

Also, set yourself up for success by hacking your Batcave:

  • If you’re going to journal when stressed, keep your diary open on your work desk.
  • If you’re going to drink water before any emotional eating, keep your full glass near you. 
  • If you’re going to take a short walk, keep your kicks near the door.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by picking overly complicated or burdensome activities.

#2) Place your Stress Response Menu somewhere visible. 

Once you make your list, print it out and place it in your kitchen or pantry (or wherever you typically stress eat). 

You could also write out a couple of your favorite activities and attach them to your refrigerator. 

If it’s right in front of you, it’ll be harder to ignore (however, it’s okay to ignore it from time to time, as we aren’t striving for perfection).

Just please don’t write it and then stick the list in the junk drawer that opens to another dimension.

Yeah, don't put your stress response menu in a portal like this.

You never can find anything in that drawer.

#3)Track your usage of the Stress Response Menu. 

This will help us in two ways:

  • First, by tracking your usage, you’ll start to feel better about using the SRM. You’ll see an accumulation of all the times you successfully deployed a stress response, helping you visualize the momentum you’re building. 
  • Second, the data will help you understand your patterns of emotional eating. Maybe five deep breaths steered you away from ice cream but the large glass of water did not. You can then use this information to update and revise your response plan.

For the first point, Coach Justin has his clients keep a “Jar of Awesome.”

Every time they have a small win in the day, like taking five deep breaths instead of chugging soda, they place a marble or small token in a jar. After a while, the jar will have a decent amount of marbles or “small wins” in it.

This will then stand as a visual reminder of all the progress being made, proof of their ongoing wins.




How Common Is Stress Eating? (Lesson #3: Learning Self-Compassion)

This photo shows a sad clown on a psychiatrist couch.

The American Psychological Association has found that about a third of Americans respond to stress with food.[1] 

This research was done BEFORE the global pandemic.

If you find yourself binging in response to stress, know that you are not alone here.

Heck, both clients and NF Coaches turn to food and alcohol for comfort every now and again.

Personally, somewhat recently I mindlessly devoured an entire tub of Animal Crackers after a stressful week. It was only when the bag was gone did I understand what just happened.

A gif of "the next day" from the film the Hangover

So yep, many of us (even fitness “experts”) are prone to stress eating.

Now, don’t take this as a free pass to stress eat. 

If the behavior goes against your goals, it’s something we want to work towards improving.

But there’s a reason they call it “comfort food.” Food can often be used to make us happier.

At the end of the day, we’re all emotional bags of meat on this floating hunk of space rock, and we’re doing the best we can. 

Give yourself a bit of a break, my friend.

You’re here, you’re reading, and you’re trying. That’s great!

This will bring me to my last point with our handy guide:

Is It Okay to Stress Eat? (Next Steps)

A LEGO pushing around a hot dog stand (with ice cream)

There are times when food is the perfect response to stress.

It’s something Coach Justin mentions in his video.

“Stress eating” might be appropriate if: 

  • After a long workday, a glass of wine with cheese helps you unwind.
  • To celebrate the coming of the weekend, you have an ice cream party on Friday night.
  • The week already seems long, and it just started, “Taco Tuesday” might help you survive until Friday.

The important thing here? 

“We are making a choice.” 

We are choosing to deal with stress or anxiety with food. By making it an intentional activity, we can remove the guilt around emotional eating.

Food can be fine as a reward, as long as it’s us controlling the behavior, and not the food itself.

In addition, if we can recognize the action (or plan for it), we can then adjust our calories before and after and not go off the rails. 

(You can calculate your recommended total daily calorie intake here, by the way!)

If it seems like you aren’t quite there yet, start with your Emotional Eating Notes and your Stress Response Menu.

Even just the process of taking notes on specific episodes of stress eating may be enough to slow down the behavior.

Remember, no matter what happens:

  • You are not a bad person if you stress eat.
  • You are not a bad person if you forget to take notes.
  • You are not a bad person if you ignore your Stress Response Menu.

You are not a bad person (unless you’re a Death Eater, but come on, you know what side you’re on). 

A gif of Voldermort looking mad and evil like

If you need any help along the way, we are here for you.

We have three specific paths to continue with Nerd Fitness:

#1) Our Online Coaching program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.

As I said before, “stress eating” is the number one issue faced by our coaching clients, so we know exactly how to help recognize and address the habit.

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you:




#2) If you want an exact blueprint for leveling up your nutrition, check out Nerd Fitness Journey! Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

If you follow our Mindset missions, you’ll learn to de-stress while earning XP! Sah-weeeet.

Try your free trial right here:

#3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Rebel Starter Kit, which includes all of our “work out at home” guides, the Nerd Fitness Diet Cheat Sheet, and much more!

Alright, I want to hear from you:

Have you been stress eating more over the last year?

Do you have any tips or tricks to interrupt the pattern?

What’s your favorite way to de-stress?

Let me know in the comments!

-Steve

P.S. Make sure you check out A Nerd’s Introduction to Mental Health for more.

###

Photo Source: Plant LEGO, beer5020 © 123RF.com, Programmer, On the couch, LEGO hot dog stand



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The 8 Best at Home Workouts (No-Equipment!)

The 8 Best at Home Workouts (No-Equipment!)


Wonder Woman vacuuming at home

So you want to start working out, but you don’t want to leave the house?

No problem! 

Our online coaches specialize in helping people get fit from home.

Let’s go over the 8 Best At-Home Workouts so you can start training today: no gym or equipment required!

Before we jump in…

You’re reading this guide at the perfect time because Nerd Fitness is currently hosting a special event, LET’S START TOGETHER: A 5-DAY WALKING CHALLENGE FOR HOBBITSNERDS!

A graph explaining the Nerd Fitness Walking Challenge

Walking around your neighborhood is a great way to start training from home! It’s one of the ways I choose to stay active.

Learn more right here!

At Home Warm-ups and stretching routines

A LEGO and his dog

No matter which at-home workout you pick, I want you to start with one important thing:

Warm-up!

I cover why you should always warm up in an article found right here. It doesn’t have to be much though, give it about five minutes to get your muscles active and your heart rate up.

Arm circles are a great way to warm-up for your at-home workout.

This will help you do exercises properly and help prevent injury. You can run in place, do air punches and kicks, or some jumping jacks.

Here is NF Senior Coach Staci (you might know her incredible story) showing you many beginner options you can use to warm up as well:

If you’re curious, here’s my personal (advanced) warm-up:

Advanced Warm-up Routine:

  • Jump rope: 2-3 minutes 
  • Jumping jacks: 25 reps
  • Bodyweight squats: 20 reps
  • Lunges: 5 reps each leg.
  • Hip extensions: 10 reps each side
  • Hip rotations: 5 each leg
  • Forward leg swings: 10 each leg
  • Side leg swings: 10 each leg
  • Push-ups: 10-20 reps
  • Spider-man steps: 10 reps

Our goal isn’t to tire you out, instead we want to warm you up.

That’s step one.

Completing your chosen at-home workout would be step two.

The Count proclaiming the number "2"

Below, you’ll find 8 sequences you can follow along with!

Home Workout #1: Beginner Bodyweight

This at-home routine, as we lay out in our Beginner Bodyweight Workout article, is as follows:

We also turned it into a fun infographic with superheroes, because that’s how we roll:

This infographic will show you the 6 exercises needed to complete our Beginner Bodyweight Workout.

The above is what we call “circuit training,” with the objective being to run through the workout sequence once, then again, then again.

Note: Not a milk drinker?

GOMAD will for sure help you gain weight, as this kid can attest to.

If you don’t have milk in the house for the rows, find something of roughly the same weight with a good handle.

Also, if you want to download this Beginner Bodyweight Workout as a worksheet, you can do so when you sign up in the box below:

It’ll help you track your progress as you begin your training.

Home Workout #2: Advanced Bodyweight 

If the beginner at-home workout above is too easy for you, move on to our Advanced Bodyweight Workout

The Advanced Bodyweight Workout:

  • One-legged squats – 10 each side [warning: super-difficult, only attempt if you’re in good enough shape]
  • Bodyweight squats: 20 reps
  • Walking lunges: 20 reps (10 each leg)
  • Jump step-ups: 20 reps (10 each leg)
  • Pull-ups: 10 reps [or inverted bodyweight rows]
  • Dips (between bar stools): 10 reps
  • Chin-ups: 10 reps [or inverted bodyweight rows with underhand grip]
  • Push-ups: 10 reps
  • Plank: 30 seconds

Not familiar with these moves? Check out the 21 Best Advanced Bodyweight Exercises for a full breakdown.

I warn you, the above sequence will hurt… in a good way. You should be proud if you can get through this three times.

Do you want to get as strong as possible so this workout ain’t no thang? 

Sign up in the box below to grab our guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. It’ll teach you all of these advanced bodyweight exercises!

Home Workout #3: The 20-Min Hotel Routine

Is there anyway to work out in this hotel room?

Sometimes, you just plain find yourself stuck in a hotel room. Maybe you can find the hotel gym, but I bet it’s terrible! It probably has 2 machines, a broken treadmill, and no free weights. 

Ugh.

Instead, how about a 20-min workout you can do in the room itself! Utilize the furniture to its full potential.

You can work out in your hotel room like these two people are doing!

Hotel Workout Level 1:

Hotel Workout Level 2:

Set the alarm clock to 15 minutes from now and see how many circuits you can do!

Check out our full post on hotel circuits if you want Level 3!

We have a LOT of business travelers throughout the Rebellion! Learn how they stay fit on the road with the Nerd Fitness Starter Kit!

Home Workout #4: High-Intensity Interval Training 

A LEGO Wizard

You don’t have to head to the gym to do High-Intensity Interval Training. You can do a complete routine right in your own home!

HIIT is just following a specific regimen where you vary your speeds and intensity throughout a shorter run, swim, bike, or row.

Unless you have a giant backyard, running at home might be tough.

But you know what doesn’t require a lot of room?

The infamous burpee bodyweight exercise!

Burpees!

To complete a burpee:

  • Start standing up, then squat down and kick your legs out.
  • Do a push-up, bring your legs back in, and explode up into a jump.
  • For a HIIT workout, try to do 20 repetitions, then rest for two minutes.
  • Repeat until you hate yourself.

Check out our full guide on How to Start Interval Training for some more ideas on HIIT workouts.

You can also check out our post “The 20-Min HIIT Workout for Home” for another living-room-friendly interval routine!

Home Workout #5: Attack of the Angry Birds

Little Cute Birds in a row

The Angry Birds Workout is designed to be done when you have 5 or 10 minutes to kill.

Sort of like playing Angry Birds…

If you have time for Angry Birds, you have time for an at home workout.

Here’s how The Angry Birds Workout Plan works: it’s deceptively simple – only four major movements.

If you don’t have time to run through the whole sequence, no problem!

Depending on how much time you have during the day, you can do your whole workout at once, or break up your training into four different sessions throughout the day (with each session being ONE of the exercises).

Here’s a sample day for your No-Equipment Workout:

  • Wake up, do 40 jumping jacks to warm up, and then do bodyweight squats.
  • At lunch, you grab your suitcase (if you’re at work, milk jug if you’re at home) and do inverted rows.
  • After work, you do another 50 jumping jacks and then do your push-ups.
  • After dinner, you do your planks while watching TV.

You could even split it up over two days if needed, but the goal would be to do it the whole sequence at once.

The main Angry Birds Workout article describes in detail Levels 1-6, but here’s Level 3 for you:

Once you’ve done the complete routine, you have my permission to whip out your phone and play the actual game!

Home Workout #6: Train like Batman

Lego minifigures standing in rows. In first row - Batman, The Jo

We love the Caped Crusader here at Nerd Fitness, so naturally we have The Batman Bodyweight Workout for you to try!

Bonus points if you somehow do this no-equipment workout in a cave, as that’s how Bruce Wayne would roll.[1]

This workout is separated into two days for you.

Here’s a video for the first day:

Batman No-Equipment Workout Day 1:

  • Rolling squat tuck-up jumps: 5 reps
  • Side to side push-ups: 5 reps
  • Modified headstand push-ups: 5 reps
  • Jump pull-up with tuck / Pull-up with Tuck-up: 5 reps
  • Handstands against wall: 8 seconds

Here’s a video for the second day:

Batman No-Equipment Workout Day 2:

  • ‘180 Degree’ jump turns: 5 reps
  • Tuck front lever hold: 8 seconds
  • Tuck back lever hold: 8 seconds
  • Low frog hold: 8 seconds

This is a relatively advanced workout already, but if you want to progress to the next level, check out the main Batman Bodyweight Workout for tips on how to do just that.

Batman is stoked you want to do an at-home workout.




Home Workout #7: The PLP Progression

At Nerd Fitness we encourage everyone to get to their first pull-up!

The PLP is a progressive program in which you complete one additional rep of three exercises – Pull-Ups, Lunges, and Push-Ups – every day, for two months.

NOTE: This is NOT a beginner program, and should not be attempted unless you have been training consistently and can do multiple repetitions of pull-ups and push-ups with great form.

Like this perfect push-up:

This gif shows Staci doing a push-up in perfect form.

And this perfect pull-up:

The classic pull-up

Here’s how the PLP Progression works:

Day 1:

  • Pull-ups: 10 reps
  • Push-ups: 10 reps
  • Lunges: 10 reps (each leg)

Day 2:

  • Pull-ups: 11 reps
  • Push-ups: 11 reps
  • Lunges: 11 reps (each leg)

Day 3:

  • Pull-ups: 12 reps
  • Push-ups: 12 reps
  • Lunges: 12 reps (each leg)

How long do you keep doing this?

As originally envisioned by Chad Waterbury, the PLP Workout lasts 60 days.[3]

A man realizing how difficult this at-home workout will be.

Yeah…by the end of it you’ll be doing more than 50 pull-ups.

There are two versions:

  • If you can do 10 straight pull-ups: Start day 1 with 10 reps of each.
  • If you cannot do 10 straight pull-ups: Start day 1 with 1 rep of each.

Complete your required reps each day in as many sets as you need, whenever you need to. The goal is to do it in as few sets as possible, but enough so that you can complete each rep with proper form.

Want to learn more? Check out my results on the PLP Workout.

Home Workout #8: The Star Wars Workout!

Ackbar dressed as a rapper

Do you have access to a hallway that you can commandeer for a bit?

Then you can do our Star Wars Workout!

It’s designed to be done in a very small space, like your home’s hallway…or an escape pod.

The “Padawan” Level of this workout is:

  • 30-second knee or feet front plank (3 Sets)
  • 10 assisted squats or squats (3 Sets)
  • 10 doorway rows (3 Sets)
  • A 60-second Farmer-carry (Farmer’s Walk) dumbbells (or milk jugs) (2 sets)
  • March in place for 3 minutes of intervals (6 sets of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off)
  • 8 elevated or knee push-ups (4 sets)
  • 60-second Doorway Leans (2 sets)

If you want to advance to the Jedi Knight or Master Levels, check out The Star Wars Workout, which will also offer you a full description of each move.

Bonus No-Equipment Workout: The Playground Circuit

Do you have a nearby playground? Why not work out there! If you have kids, you can do it together. Or let them ignore you.

I’ll give you a Level One workout, and a Level Two. Check out The 20-Minute Playground Workout for some Level Three exercises.

Playground Workout Level One:

  • Alternating step-ups: 20 reps (10 each leg)
  • Elevated push-ups: 10 reps
  • Swing rows: 10 reps
  • Assisted lunges: 8 reps each leg
  • Bent leg reverse crunches: 10 reps

Playground Workout Level Two:

  • Bench jumps: 10 reps
  • Lower incline push-ups: 10 reps
  • Body rows: 10 reps
  • Lunges: 8 reps each leg
  • Straight leg reverse crunches: 10 reps

After you’ve gone through a complete set three times, go down the slide!



Can Home Workouts Build Muscle or Help With Weight Loss?

A LEGO penguin

Throughout our Online Coaching Program, we get two common questions for those wanting to train at home:

  1. Can working out at home help me build muscle?
  2. Can working out at home help me lose weight?

The answer to both of these: yep!

Let’s tackle them one by one.

#1) Can working out at home help me build muscle?

You can 100% build muscle mass at home.

Just ask out friend Jimmy here:

Jimmy before and after he did bodyweight training

Read more on how Jimmy turned into Spider-Man from home!

The trick is to follow a progressive overload strategy, as Coach Jim outlines in this video:

With progressive overload, we want to make our workouts more and more challenging, thus putting additional strain on our muscles.

So to build muscle with home workouts, focus on:

  • Increasing your repetitions.
  • Decreasing your rest periods between exercises.
  • Performing more difficult variations (knee push-ups to push-ups).
  • Increasing your time under tension (by going slower).

That will help you build strength and muscle from your casa.

Next up:

#2) Can working out at home help me lose weight?

You can totally train at home for a successful weight loss strategy.

Again, we have a great example with one of our Online Coaching Clients, Sarah the Supermom:

This picture shows Sarah's transformation

The trick here is to couple your home workouts with adjustments to your nutrition.

We’re big believers that you can’t outrun your fork, so any successful weight loss plan will include a focus on building a healthy plate.

That will look something like this:

If your meal plate looks like this, you're doing a lot of the heavy lifting for weight loss.

If you want some help on adjusting your nutrition, I’ve got two great resources for you:

  • The Nerd Fitness Guide to Healthy Eating. This massive resource will help you slowly adjust your nutrition, without forcing you to give up the food you love (yes, you can still eat pizza here and there). No more diets, instead we’ll work on building habits together.
  • Nerd Fitness Coaching. If you want to take it to the next level, one of our trained professionals can help you adjust your way of eating to help you reach your goals. No shame. No judgment. Just a like-minded nerd who will show you the way.




How to Build Your Own At-Home Workout

You can workout in a home just like this!

We just went over 8 workouts you can do at home (plus a workout you can do in a park).

You don’t have to stick to these though!

I have two resources to help you design your own no-equipment workout:

  1. The 42 Best Bodyweight Exercises: This guide will teach you how to perform the best bodyweight exercises – no equipment required! Check it out if you are unfamiliar with any of the movements referenced in today’s guide.
  2. How To Build Your Own Workout Routine: Once you’re comfortable with a handful of bodyweight exercises, use this guide to pull them all together into a full-body workout!

That should get you going on building a workout you can do in the comfort of your own home.

Want more? Alright, eager beaver, I got you.

This beaver is ready to start his at home training.

We built THREE options for people just like you:

1) If you want step-by-step guidance, a custom workout program that levels up as you get stronger, and a coach to keep you accountable, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:

Your NF Coach can help you lose weight and get healthy!

2) If you want a daily prompt for doing workouts at home, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion. 

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. It’ll help you start incorporating these bodyweight moves into your training.

Alright, your turn: I’d love to hear how your home training is going!

Which workout above did you try? Did you make one of your own?

Leave a comment below with your results or any questions you have on working out at home.

For the Rebellion!

-Steve

PS: If you were going to buy one piece of equipment to utilize in your home, a kettlebell would offer you a lot of versatility:

Coach Matt showing you how to rock the kettlebell swing.

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Photo Sources: Home Sweet Home 2, good dog, The minifigures of this series are really beautiful, it’s a rap, my friend:), Ekaterina Minaeva © 123RF.com, Hotel Room, af8images © 123RF.com, Tithi Luadthong © 123RF.com, Vintage House Bicycle,



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Lose Fat and Gain Muscle (At the Same Time)

Lose Fat and Gain Muscle (At the Same Time)


Is Vader on the right track to lose fat and gain muscle? Let's find out!

There’s an argument in the fitness world that you can either choose to lose fat OR gain muscle.

That they just can’t be done simultaneously.

To this, I say, “Hogwash!”

We have tons of success stories from our online coaching clients who have been able to do both simultaneously:




And that’s what we’ll cover in today’s guide!

We’ll do so by discussing:

Before we jump in…

You’re reading this guide at the perfect time because Nerd Fitness is currently hosting a special event, LET’S START TOGETHER: A 5-DAY WALKING CHALLENGE FOR HOBBITSNERDS!

A graph explaining the Nerd Fitness Walking Challenge

You’ll read more about it below, but one of the secrets to losing fat is moving in a way you enjoy. Like walking!

If interested, learn more about the challenge right here!

What’s Body Recomposition?

As Coach Matt mentions in the video above, gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously is called “body recomposition.”

So yes, the process is indeed possible, as long as you follow the right plan.

…but you don’t have to take my word for it.

Just ask our friend Aksel here (who achieved an impressive body recomp with the help of a NF Coach):

A side-by-side of Aksel's before and after

Read more about his incredible story!

However, as I mentioned in the intro, you’ll often hear that losing fat while gaining muscle is impossible. The argument goes that you should just focus on one or the other, because doing both at once is destined to fail.

Let’s explore this claim.

Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle at the Same Time (The Controversy)

This picture shows two LEGO miners, who don't have much to do with fast weight loss, but look cool.

To understand why losing fat while gaining muscle can be problematic, we need to explore both processes.

Let’s consider the following points:

Given this, losing fat (caloric deficit) at the same time one is gaining muscle (caloric surplus) seems impossible.

However, if we go a few steps deeper into the science, it IS possible!

A foe from the Prince Bride not believing you can lose fat while gaining muscle.

To appreciate the nuance here, let’s get into some specifics on losing fat and gaining muscle separately, and then we’ll combine them.

HOW DO YOU LOSE FAT?

a picture of Homer Simpson with Donut

There is a simple answer and a slightly less simple answer when it comes to losing body fat.

The simple answer: “consume fewer calories than you expend or burn.”[1]

Eight words, and one or two of those could probably be thrown out.

When your body needs more calories than the amount you are eating, you are in a “caloric deficit.” Your body doesn’t have the calories it needs as fuel, so it’ll start breaking down parts of itself for its energy requirements.

(If you’re curious, you can calculate your daily caloric needs here).

The hope is that your body will mostly pull from fat stores, though depending on how you are training it will also break down muscle too.[2]

Said again: when you are eating a caloric deficit, your body will pull from both its fat stores AND existing muscle for energy.

Yes, if you're not careful you can lose fat AND muscle while losing weight.

Troubling indeed.

From a physique and health standpoint, obviously we’d prefer that your body doesn’t break down muscle when in a caloric deficit, and instead really focuses on using fat stores instead.[3]

I make this point for a reason: your goal in fitness shouldn’t only be “weight loss,” despite the common vernacular used.

Who cares what the scale says, right?

A scale can be misleading when you're trying to lose fat and gain muscle.

The goal instead is to reduce body fat while also keeping the muscle you have (or even building more muscle).

That leads to a better physique and a healthier body.

This is why there is a big market for devices that supposedly assess your body fat percentage.

By reducing your total fat on your body, OR increasing muscle mass, you’ll end up with a lower body fat percentage (it’s just a simple ratio of fat to everything else).

And lower body fat percentages are where “toned arms” and “6-pack abs” hang out.

Arnold lost body fat and gained muscle to achieve his physique. And maybe some super glue.

We’ll discuss tips on keeping and growing your muscle while in a calorie deficit later in this guide. For now, remember you need fewer calories “in” compared to calories “out” for weight loss to occur, from either fat stores or muscle.

You may be asking, “Steve, what’s easier to do? Burn more calories or consume less?”

Good question.

Numbers will help tell the story: though this is a gross oversimplification – let’s use the ‘widely accepted’ starting point of “3,500 calories equals roughly one pound of fat.”[4]

If you want to lose one pound – or half a kilogram – of body fat in a week (a worthy, sustainable goal for some), you need to create a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day. 

Your options to create this caloric deficit include:

  • Consuming 500 fewer calories
  • Burning 500 more calories
  • A combination of the two

Which is easier?

Here are both halves of that equation. 500 calories equals:

  • The number of calories found in a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew.
  • An estimate of the calories required to run five miles.

Yes, you will have to run for a long time to burn 500 calories.

Yep.

When it comes to maintaining a caloric deficit, it really comes down to diet.

It’s significantly more effective and time-efficient to consume 500 fewer calories than it is to burn 500 additional calories.

As Time magazine controversially pointed out – with tons of cited studies – “exercise alone won’t make you thin.” It’s too easy to add more calories in, and requires too much work to effectively influence “calories out.”

We dig into this in our guide to The CICO Diet

This brings us to our slightly less simple answer on getting in shape:

To lose body fat, you need to watch what you eat, and do so in a sustainable way.

Here at Nerd Fitness, we are firm believers that 80-90% of the fat-loss equation comes down to diet (check out Rule # 4).

Here’s another idea we focus on: EAT MOSTLY UNPROCESSED FOOD.[5]

These image shows some real food, critical if you're trying to lose body fat.

Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts are all great examples.

These foods are very nutrient-dense and often low in calories compared to their processed counterparts. Which means you get filled up without overeating.

Win-win-win.

Have you ever seen the difference between 200 calories of broccoli and 200 calories of a bagel? WiseGEEK does a great job of displaying this, so we’ll borrow a couple of their photos.

200 calories of broccoli:

A pic of 200 calories of broccoli

200 calories of a bagel:

This picture shows you 200 calories worth of a bagel, which is about 2/3 of one.

That’s why REAL food is the answer to creating a sustainable caloric deficit.

Most people can eat an entire bagel, no problem. Plates of broccoli, with all of the fiber, are much tougher to overeat.

We lay it all out in our Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating. It’ll provide tips on how to gradually create habits that get you to a “REAL food” way of eating, including proper portion sizes, tips on batch cooking, and a cameo from Winnie the Pooh.

Pooh knows that to lose fat and gain muscle, he really needs to cool it with all the honey.

With all of this, we advise you to take it slow, so new habits of healthy eating become permanent.

Something you can do for the rest of your life.

It’s a strategy we work closely with our coaching clients on: small nutritional adjustments they feel comfortable making. It’s how some of them have been able to lose 50-100 pounds!




Let me explain again: what you eat will be 80%-90% of the equation for losing body fat.

The other 10-20%? Exercise.

Of course it’s exercise.

That’s a pretty good segue into…

HOW DO YOU GAIN MUSCLE?

Toy Hulk and the wilds trunks of huge plants

If you want to build muscle, you’ll have to lift heavy things and ensure that your body has enough calories and protein to adapt by building more muscle.

In our Beginner’s Guide to Building Muscle and Strength, I summarize it as follows:

  • Lift heavy things
  • Eat a diet based on your goals
  • Rest so your body can recover

Let’s chat about each one quickly.

#1) Lift heavy things

I will always be on Team Strength Training. If you’re looking to build muscle, you’re gonna need to lift heavy things.

This Muppet knows strength training will help him gain muscle and lose fat.

When you lift an object (or your own bodyweight) enough times, your muscles reach the point of failure. This causes your muscles to tear and breakdown.

When your muscle rebuilds itself following the workout, it’ll be bigger and stronger than before. Then you do it again.

And again.

And again.

As long as you are eating enough to rebuild your muscle, you’ll get stronger!

Not sure where to start on a Strength Training practice? No problem! You can download our free guide Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know when you join the Rebellion (our free community) below:

#2) Eat a diet based on your goals

Because your muscle needs to be rebuilt after exercise, the calories are gonna need to come from somewhere. I’ll talk a lot about proper diet in the next section (with a Harry Potter analogy), so I won’t spend too much time on it here.

Just know that eating the right quantity of foods will be a big part of gaining muscle.  

#3) Rest

Your body rebuilds itself while you sleep, so make sure you get plenty of rest each night. I’m talking 7-8+ hours. This will help ensure your body has the time it needs to grow stronger.

If you’re strength training and only getting 6 hours of sleep a night or less, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Go to bed!

Donald knows he has to get plenty of rest to grow muscle. If only that sink would stop dripping.

That’s the short gist of how to build strength: challenge your muscles, eat well, and get some rest.

Let’s narrow in on our second point, “Eat a diet based on your goals.” It’ll become very important when balancing both losing body fat and gaining muscle.

To do that properly, grab your owl, and let’s chat about Hogwarts.

How to Lose Fat WHILE Gaining Muscle (The Science)

Close-up shot of microscope with metal lens at laboratory.

To answer the question of losing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time, I’d like to introduce an analogy from the world of Harry Potter.

Recall the “Sorting Hat:” The Sorting Hat’s job was to determine which of the four houses kids will call their home.

The sorting hat will help us tell the story on calories and losing fat.

It’s almost like a traffic director: “Harry, you will go to Gryffindor! Draco, you will go to Slytherin!”

Your body operates on a VERY similar operation: every day it receives new calories (when you eat), and it needs to decide what to do with them!

For example:

You eat a chicken parm sub with fries and a 20-ounce soda. Your body then has to know where to route all those calories.

To keep things simple, it has three choices. It’ll sort those calories into one of three houses:[6]

A. Burn for Fuel.

B. Rebuild Muscle.

C. Store as Fat.

Right now, when you eat food, your body sorts most of those calories into “Burn for Fuel.”

There’s a number of calories your body needs each day just existing: to keep your liver functioning, your heart pumping, your brain operating, to regulate your body temperature, and so on – it burns a good chunk of calories just keeping the lights on.

A beating heart requires calories, which factors into your calorie needs.

This is your “Basal Metabolic Rate” which you can calculate for yourself in our TDEE calculator.

There’s also “B. Rebuild as Muscle” and “C. Store as Fat,” which I devoted entire sections to above.

This is where the problems arise: When you overeat calories and your body doesn’t need anymore to fuel itself, it takes those extra calories and stores them as fat.

However, our goal is the OPPOSITE of this.

We want to keep the muscle we have (or grow it) while getting rid of the fat!

So let’s imagine a scenario where we pull all this together by strength training heavy AND reducing our caloric intake:

  1. You strength train regularly, and your muscles break down and need to be rebuilt.
  2. You don’t consume enough calories to both rebuild muscle and fuel itself. There’s not enough to go into the “Burn for Fuel” and “Rebuild Muscle” houses.

Does your body just shut down?

NOPE!

Yep, if you have fat on you your body will pull from it to take care of its needs.
Your body has been preparing for this, by storing any excess calories over the years in the “Store as Fat” house.

This means your body can pull from “Store as Fat” to make sure all the work still gets done, including your daily functions as a human and rebuilding the muscle you tore apart.

Said another way:

If you have fat stores (and we all do), you do not need to be in a “caloric surplus” to rebuild muscle. The calories stored in your fat cells act as this required energy.

There is also evidence that muscle can even be grown while in a caloric deficit.[7]

Meaning bigger muscles with a lower belt size.[8]

This dog just found out it's possible to both lose fat AND gain muscle.

However, if you want to skip all the experimentation and trial and error, you can have a Nerd Fitness Coach do all the heavy lifting for you (not really, you’ll still need to work out).




TIPS TO LOSE BODY FAT WHILE GAINING MUSCLE

Superhero Couple. Male and female superheroes. Cloudy sky.

Let’s bring this all together and create some actionable steps to losing body fat and building muscle at the same time.

#1) Sustain a caloric deficit while eating enough protein

You need your body to burn more calories than you consume, and also provide your body with enough protein to rebuild its muscle.

You can only lose fat if you’re in a calorie deficit.

You need to reduce your calories and be in a deficit if your goal is to lose fat.

Remember the Sorting Hat analogy:

If you’re eating too much, your excess calories are being sent to the “Store as Fat” house.

We want to pull from this house instead. So eat less than you burn consistently. 

To help here, I have 3 resources for you:

  1. Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating. If you want tips and tricks to create habits based on REAL food, that guide will help get you there.
  2. Determining the Perfect Diet for You.” I talk about the benefits of creating a Mental Model on nutrition like Intermittent Fasting, Paleo or Keto (or Paleolithic Ketogenic) to help navigate all the food choices you need to make.
  3. Count calories: This means learning your total daily energy expenditure, and tracking your other calories through an app (and/or weighing your food).

You don’t have to follow some predetermined blueprint like “low-carb.” You can create your own diet (which is what I do). Learn all about it right here.

#2) Strength train

If you could sell a pill that could be prescribed to every single person on Earth to make them healthier, it would look something like a strength training routine in a bottle.

A one arm push-up can help you lose fat and build muscle, but maybe start with regular push-ups first.

It is one of the best things you can do for your body.[9]   

And really, if you want to build muscle, you’re gonna need to lift something! Either weights or your own bodyweight.

You need to challenge your muscles in order for them to get stronger. Now, as we discuss in our article on the correct number of reps and sets, there are multiple ways to do so.

To build muscle:

Lift lighter weights for lots of reps.

Lift really heavy with fewer reps.

The important thing: pick a strategy and get started.

Vada is ready to strength train! And torment her Dad's GF.

Here are 3 paths forward:

  1. Start with a beginner bodyweight workout.
  2. Follow one of our 5 Beginner Strength Training Routines.
  3. Go through our 6 Level Gym Workouts.

To recap: if you train heavy and eat a caloric deficit, your body will pull from its fat stores to both fuel itself and potentially also build muscle. This is a double whammy of AWESOME.

#3) Prioritize protein

Outside of being in a caloric deficit and lifting weights (or yourself), eating enough protein is one of the key components of both losing body fat and building muscle.

Protein is the number one nutrient for creating new tissue.[10]

Sponge Bob knows how to build muscle and strength.

So when you cut out calories to create a caloric deficit, don’t cut them from protein sources.

Studies have shown that participants can gain muscle, even while in a caloric deficit, as long as they eat enough protein.[11]

It’s important enough that I’ll say it again:

If you don’t want your body cannibalizing its muscles while you are in a caloric deficit, you need to eat plenty of protein.[12]

How much protein?

As we point out in our Guide to Protein, roughly 1 gram for every pound of your weight, with an upper limit of 250 grams.[13] Or two grams for every kilogram if you are on the metric system. This means:

  • If you weigh 300 pounds (136 kg), eat 250g of protein.
  • If you weigh 250 pounds (113 kg), eat 250g of protein.
  • If you weigh 200 pounds (91 kg), eat 200g of protein.
  • If you weigh 180 pounds (82 kg), eat 180g of protein.

The gist: don’t skip out on protein. It should be on your plate for every meal (we’ll show you exactly how much in the next section).

If these generalized recommendations stress you out, and you want to know exactly what to do, we can help!

I’ll remind you of Nerd Fitness Coaching, where we help clients lose body fat, gain muscle, and level up their lives. We provide tailored and specific recommendations based on your body and lifestyle, plus accountability and mindset changes to help ensure your new habits stick.

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

WHAT SHOULD I EAT TO LOSE FAT AND GAIN MUSCLE?

Toy Dinosaur holding a fork next to a slice of birthday cake on a blue background.

Remember, your eating strategy needs to include two points to lose fat while gaining muscle:

  1. Sustain a caloric deficit.
  2. Prioritize protein so you can build muscle even while in a deficit.

You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good Steve, but what’s that actually look like?” 

It looks like this!

If your meal plate looks like this, you're doing great!

Taken from our Guide to Start Eating Healthy, which I really want you to read.

The plate is composed of the following: 

  • 1-2 servings of protein (¼ of plate)
  • 2 servings of vegetables (½ of plate)
  • 1 serving potatoes, rice, or pasta. (1/4th of plate)
  • 1 serving of fat (size of your thumb)
  • 1 zero calorie or low calorie beverage (water, diet soda, tea)

By sticking to our Healthy Plate strategy above, you’ll focus on “REAL food,” which will help you maintain a caloric deficit over time.

Let’s hone in on protein for a moment, because it’s the critical piece for “building muscle.”

Protein can come from any number of sources, including:

  • Meat (steak, bison, pork).
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck).
  • Eggs![14]
  • Fish and shellfish (salmon, tuna, shrimp).
  • Legumes (black beans, chickpeas).

Not a meat-eater? Read our massive plant-based guide!

A serving of protein is about the size and thickness of your palm.

A serving of protein should be about the size of your palm, like so.

*The 4 oz serving is for an uncooked piece of meat. Cooking reduces about 25% of the weight, bringing it down to about 3 oz.

If you’re curious, here’s how much protein is in a serving of food:

  • 4 oz (113 g) serving of chicken has around 30 g of protein.
  • 4 oz (113 g) serving of salmon has 23 g of protein
  • 4 oz (113 g) of steak has 28 g of protein. 

While all of the Healthy Plate above is important, I want you to pay extra attention to your protein intake since we are trying to build muscle. 

If you’re having trouble making your protein intake goals, check out our Guide on Protein Supplements for some tips and tricks to up your intake, including some awesome smoothie recipes.

This is the exact strategy I followed to lose 22 pounds and get to single-digit bodyfat percentage WHILE building muscle:

  • Lift super heavy.
  • Eat LOTS of protein.
  • Reduce carb and fat intake.

If you are NOT losing weight, it means you are still eating too many calories. Keep your protein intake high, and reduce your fat and carbohydrate intake. 

I cover this in greater detail in our “why can’t I lose weight?” guide.

Eventually, you’ll reach a status where there just isn’t enough fat on you to help with “Rebuild Muscle.” At this stage, you can no longer stay with a caloric deficit. You’ll need to flip to a slight “caloric surplus” to build more muscle.

Which means you’ll have to eat more.

Like this turtle, you may reach a point where you have to eat more to gain muscle.

It’s debatable when this will actually occur, and we are all different. Reaching 8% body fat for men and 16% body fat for women is a good place to start.

I talk about this extensively in our guide “How to Build Muscle.”

It covers ways to increase your calories for muscle gain, from eating plentiful amounts of Paleo foods to drinking enough milk to make Santa Clause jealous.

Santa is drinking milk to put on some muscle. The cookies are just because he likes them.

Go check it out if you’ve been having trouble putting on muscle.

I want to stress that if you are lifting heavy, and not gaining muscle, diet is likely the culprit.

It was my problem for years, and I’ve seen it amongst countless readers of Nerd Fitness who have trouble gaining muscle.

If you want an expert who will tell you exactly when to eat more or less, check out our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program




HOW TO TELL IF IT’S ALL WORKING (Continuing to Lose Fat While Gaining Muscle)

Now you're ready to start losing fat and gaining muscle!

If you’re trying to improve something, it’s important to track it. This also holds true of body composition.

Most people do this by jumping on the scale. This can be “okay,” but it’s only going to tell part of the story.

If you’re building muscle while losing fat, the scale might not go down. You might even weigh more!

Despite weighing more, you could potentially have a better physique.

Don't just look at the scale. You might have lost bodyfat and gained muscle, but the scale won't show it!

That’s why in addition to jumping on the scale, I would also encourage you to take progress photos.

Take front and side photos in your mirror, wearing underwear or a bathing suit. Each week, take new photos, and record the number on the scale under the same scenario. Two forms of tracking here allow us to get the full picture.

The scale sometimes lies!

If you eat for a caloric deficit, strength train, and prioritize protein, see what happens.

You may find yourself losing some fat and gaining muscle.

If not, track each category:

Data can help tell the story.

Data and numbers will help you know if you're losing fat and gaining muscle. Numbers, not the robot.

…I was thinking of detailed notes.

But an android would be helpful too.

Oftentimes if you’re not seeing desired results, notes and record-keeping can help point us in the direction to make adjustments.

Test your assumptions if things don’t appear to be on track. Here’s our Guide on Tracking Fitness Progress for you to learn more.

The tips outlined above will get you started losing fat while building muscle, but if you’re looking to go a bit further…

#1) If you want step-by-step guidance on how to lose weight, eat better, and get stronger, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:




#2) If you want an exact blueprint for getting in shape, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

#3) Enlist in the Rebellion! We have a free email newsletter that we send out twice per week, full of tips and tricks to help you get healthy, get strong, and have fun doing so. 

I’ll also send you tons of free guides that you can use to start leveling up your life too:

Alright, I think that about does it for this guide.

Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips and tricks when it comes to shedding body fat and building muscle?

Share it with us!

-Steve,

PS: Make sure you read the rest of the articles in our “How to Lose Weight 101” Series!

###

All photo sources are right here: Venting Off, Ekaterina Minaeva © 123RF.com, czgur © 123RF.com, morethanl8ve © 123RF.com, Константин Колосов © 123RF.com, Maxim Maksutov © 123RF.com, Julianna Funk © 123RF.com, jump



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Should You Do Couch to 5K? (5 Mistakes to Avoid)

Should You Do Couch to 5K? (5 Mistakes to Avoid)


Has is Indy so quick to leave temples? He runs races on the weekends.

If you’re looking to run your first 5K, you’ve come to the right place. 

In today’s guide, we’ll cover common questions – and 5 mistakes – about the Couch to 5K program:

Before we jump in…

You’re reading this guide at the perfect time because Nerd Fitness is currently hosting a special event, LET’S START TOGETHER: A 5-DAY WALKING CHALLENGE FOR HOBBITSNERDS!

It’s suited for anyone starting their walking or running adventure, since our team of coaches will explain how to start both (plus offer an intro to hiking).

Learn more right here!

What is Couch to 5K? Why is the Couch to 5K Plan so popular?

young dog sleeping on modern sofa in the living room

“Couch to 5K” is a free program that takes people from their couch to running a 5K race in 9 weeks.

5K is short for 5 kilometers, or 5,000 meters or 3.1 miles.

This running program was invented by Josh Clark of CoolRunning WAY back in the day.

What's older, this clip or Couch to 5K? Hard to tell.

It has since been co-opted and copied by every running blog out there, so we’re going to be referring to a generic “Couch to 5K” program when we talk about it.

(When people ask the question “How long does it take to complete Couch to 5K,” it really depends on which program they pick. 

It might be 6 weeks, or 12 weeks, or 9 weeks. The original Couch to 5K plan created by Cooling Running took 9 weeks).

Here’s the Couch to 5K plan a nutshell:

The program utilizes an uber-popular concept called interval training – moving at different speeds throughout a running session – and lays out exactly what to do every day for 6-12 weeks after starting.

What's cool about Couch to 5K is each day you know exactly how you should be training!

By varying your pacing, your body is forced to adapt to different speeds, and your heart and lungs have to adapt to various levels of strenuous activity (and get stronger/healthier as a consequence).

As a result, you actually burn more calories and get better prepared for a race than compared to just training at a constant speed.

In other words, interval training rocks and should be used by anybody who wants to get better at running.

Over the weeks, Couch to 5K slowly ramps up the amount of time you spend running and cuts back the time you spend walking until you’re at the point where you can actually run a 5K without stopping.

Mr. Gump ran like 1,000 5Ks when he crossed America.

“STEVE, I’M INTRIGUED. WHY IS COUCH TO 5K SO DANG POPULAR?”

#1) It’s simple and clear.

Print out a PDF or download an iPhone app and for the next 9 weeks you simply do what it tells you:

Today, do this.

Tomorrow, do that.

Repeat.

We’re all busy. Most of us lead hectic lives. And programs that tell us EXACTLY what to do allow us to follow instructions without needing to figure it out ourselves.

Not that us nerds overanalyze things to the point of giving ourselves anxiety attacks

#2) Most people think running = weight loss.

If you’re brand new to health and fitness, and you’re trying to lose weight, you’re most likely overwhelmed by what you should start with and how you should train.

Are you gonna go sign up for a gym membership, hire a trainer, and start doing squats and deadlifts?

Rebel Leader Steve showing how to do a 420 lb deadlift at the gym.

As much as I would WISH that was the answer (it’s probably the fastest path to changing one’s physique), it’s often a bridge too far for many folks.

So a majority of newbies equate running with weight loss (which MIGHT be true, but MIGHT not, I’ll explain here), and decide to start with a jog around the block.

#3) Couch to 5K is not overwhelming.

It’s a free program (or inexpensive app), and it’s very approachable.

Programs like P90X and Insanity are designed to appeal to people that consider themselves hardcore (whatever the hell that means).

Couch to 5K appeals to people who are overwhelmed at the idea of doing P90X or Insanity or mustering up the courage to go to Crossfit.

Couch to 5K makes you think “maybe I can actually do this…” which is the most important part of any fitness journey: starting.

Homer wants to eat donuts so he is doing Couch to 5K. Is he doing it right?

#4) Everybody wants to “have run a 5K.”

If you’re new to health and fitness and working on setting a good obtainable goal, “run a 5K this year” is a great place to start.

  • It’s a short enough distance that with some training you can pull it off, even if you have to walk some or all of it.
  • There are 5Ks practically every weekend, many of which raise money for charity or are themed in a fun way,
  • It’s an amazing activity to do as a group with friends.
  • Humans are wired for achievements, progress, and gratification – 5Ks are perfectly designed for that.

So in completing Couch to 5K, you train and get to see yourself progress weekly, you get to finish a race and feel a  sense of accomplishment, and you go home with a medal you can hang on your wall reminding you of the proud moment.

Humans are wired for achievements like these trophies, which makes running a 5K awesome.

Plus, it might get you in shape!

Maybe…we’ll explore in just a moment.

If you are trying to get in shape, I’ll mention our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. I know of no better way to transform yourself than through the help of an expert who knows exactly what to do. We’ve helped hundreds of people run their first 5K and helped others train for triathlons!




Does Couch to 5K actually work? Will I lose weight Doing Couch to 5K?

Buddha isn't trying to lose weight. But he's also zen about you trying to.

“Steve that’s all fine and good. But what do you REALLY think about running 5Ks and Couch to 5K?”

Okay, you got me. I got thoughts. I also got jokes (they’re bad).

RANT INCOMING!

Consider this a "warning" on an incoming rant about C25K.

Will the Couch to 5K program help you run a 5k? YES! If you actually stick with it for the entirety of the training program.

Will the Couch to 5K program help you lose weight? MAYBE.

Is Couch to 5K a program that will get you healthy permanently? MAYBE.

Will Couch to 5K make me sexy and look damn good in a bathing suit? MAYBE, but probably not.

Here’s the truth about Couch to 5K: It’s the same truth with popular programs like P90X or Insanity or any other structured workout program:

It totally works and will help you lose weight if you do two things:

  1. You actually complete the program, AND
  2. You fix your diet.

MISTAKE #1: Couch to 5K totally doesn’t work and won’t help you lose weight if you do two things:

  1. You actually complete the program, BUT
  2. You don’t fix your diet.

As sexy as it is to think that just going for a run will help you lose weight, the data doesn’t back it up. In fact, as Time Magazine rightly pointed out years ago and got yelled at for telling the truth, exercise alone won’t make you lose weight.

I believe that to be especially true when exercise is only steady-speed cardio.

Homer is doing Couch to 5K...week 1.

In fact, many people gain weight after starting an exercise routine and get completely demoralized.

What gives?

As we say here at Nerd Fitness, you can’t outrun your fork, and nutrition is 90% of the battle.

If you go for a mile run and then stuff your face with extra calories “because you earned it,” you’re going to gain weight.

It’s not because you have a slow metabolism, I promise. It’s because you’re consuming too many calories.

This is Common Mistake #1: not fixing your nutrition if you’re running for weight loss!

If this were a movie, nutrition would be Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible and exercise is that funny sidekick who helps Tom. Let’s be real here, Tom is doing all of the heavy lifting to make that movie what it is.

Tom Cruise is the heart of Mission Impossible, like nutrition is the heart of weight loss.

Couch to 5K helps people run a 5K.

That’s it.

It’s not designed to help you lose weight or build a body you’re proud of. It’s also a temporary program that lasts a certain number of weeks until you run your 5K.

For Couch to 5K to be successful for you long term, and for it to help you lose weight, it needs to be the catalyst that causes you to build a consistent long-term habit of exercise and changes how you think about food.

Remember: you never get to be “done”, so you need to enjoy the journey and look forward to exercising daily.

You also need to train the right way to build the type of body you want! And eat the right way.

That’s priority numero uno.

The Tick knows you can't outrun a bad diet, even with Couch to 5K.

Before we continue…

As I mentioned earlier, you’re reading this guide at the perfect time because Nerd Fitness is currently hosting a special event, LET’S START TOGETHER: A 5-DAY WALKING CHALLENGE FOR HOBBITSNERDS!

It’s suited for anyone starting their walking or running adventure, since our team of coaches will explain how to start both (plus offer an intro to hiking).

Learn more right here!

Do I Even Like Running?

This runner definitely has a strong core!

Bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman said it best:

“Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, don’t nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight.”

In other words: “Everybody wants to be in shape, and look great, but nobody wants to put the work in to actually GET in shape and look great.”

And yup, getting in shape is tough; if it were easy we’d all look like Captain America and Wonder Woman.

Instead, 70% of America is overweight and 30+% are obese. Crap.

This brings me back to the most crucial question of this entire 5K process:

Do you even LIKE running?

Batman has to fun whether he likes to or not...part of fighting crime means running 5Ks (ish).

The world is split into three groups:

  • People that like running and want to run.
  • People that don’t like running but eventually learn to love it.
  • People that don’t like running and will never like running.

Here’s that Ronnie Coleman quote, slightly adapted: “Everybody wants to have run a 5K, but many people don’t actually enjoy running.”

Running a 5K is a great achievement and a worthwhile fun goal, but it’s only one way of thousands to “get in shape.”

Many people feel like Andy Dwyer in Parks and Rec when they go running.

An image showing a damaged character from running too much while training with Couch to 5K.

Some people love that feeling of anguish or pushing beyond the limits, and that’s awesome!

But for everybody else, they make Mistake #2: they force themselves to run even though they don’t like it!

So before you start Couch to 5K, think of it as a science experiment:

“I hypothesize that following Couch to 5K will help me run a 5K. I also hypothesize I’ll enjoy the process, enjoy how I feel after a run, enjoy running a 5k, and/or enjoy the achievement of having run a 5k.”

And that’s all this is: an experiment to see if running is the type of exercise you want to continue doing consistently for the next few years.

If 2 weeks into Couch to 5K you’re miserable and hate it: fantastic!

You just discovered that you hate running and are now free to NEVER RUN EVER AGAIN FOREVER. It doesn’t make you a failure.

It means your science experiment produced a result that you can now use to inform future exercise decisions.

Treat your Couch to 5K experience as an experiment to see if you enjoy running.

Again, it doesn’t make you a failure.

It just means you found a type of exercise that doesn’t work for you.

If you discover you LOVE running and how it makes you feel: fantastic! You can now make running part of your regular exercise routine. Combine this with a good nutritional strategy, and you will build yourself a runner’s physique. And you’ve found something you can do for the rest of your life.

If you are running to prove something to yourself, because a friend is doing it, because you’re raising money for charity, or anything else: fantastic! Do Couch to 5K and then decide after if this is the strategy that you enjoy and want to stick with permanently.

Don’t make Mistake #2: If you’re ONLY doing this to lose weight and it’s making you miserable, quit. Don’t run. Ever.

No, you don't have to run if you don't like it. We promise.

Instead, pick an exercise you actually enjoy. But not because the exercise is going to help you lose weight – because doing an exercise you love is a constant reminder of “I’m making healthier choices, and thus I should probably eat healthier!”

If weight loss above all else is your goal, I’d recommend our Beginner Bodyweight routine you can do at home and combine it with our “Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating.” I can promise that if you read those strategies and start to implement them in your life, you’ll see results without ever having to set foot on a treadmill.

Phew! Okay, that covers “do you actually LIKE running?”

There’s another massive question you should be asking yourself before you start…

Are You Healthy Enough to Run a 5K?

Being chased by zombies is a good way to get you off the couch and running a 5K.

Just because you WANT to run doesn’t mean you SHOULD necessarily start running just yet.

It could be a fast track to injury, disappointment, and misery!

Those are literally three of my least favorite things. The fourth being brunch.[1]

You won't find Steve chugging mimosas at brunch like this lady.

Back to your health: are you physically ready to run?

If you’re at or close to your goal weight, then starting a running program is a good idea.

Read the section below on “How to not get injured doing Couch to 5K” and get started.

If you are obese or very overweight, I think (power) WALKING a 5K is a great goal for the immediate future.

However, I think Mistake #3 would be running a 5K before properly preparing your body for it! In fact, running prematurely without addressing your weight might cause damage to your joints and ligaments and cause you to backslide a whole bunch.

WHAT I WOULD DO INSTEAD: Focus on healthy eating, building the habit of daily walks, and follow a beginner strength-building routine like the Beginner Bodyweight Circuit.

(Oh, and if you want to start walking, join LET’S START TOGETHER: A 5-DAY WALKING CHALLENGE FOR HOBBITSNERDS!

You can earn some NF merch as you begin your walking adventure!)

Here’s why you should focus on strength and nutrition before pounding the pavement with hours of running:

  • As you begin to drop weight, a lot of the stress on your joints, organs, bones, etc. will start to decrease.
  • As you strength train, the ligaments that hold your body together will become stronger and more adequately prepared for the rigors of running.
  • As you refine your running form to minimize resistance and jarring shocks throughout your body, your body will learn to become more efficient.
  • When you start to approach your goal weight, you can start to introduce increase your speed from power walking to jogging – with correct running technique (see below) – and staying healthy.

“STEVE, I was all excited to run a 5k, and now you have me demoralized. I’m overweight but I still want to run!”

Okay okay okay, fine! I don’t want to keep you from exercising, I want to help you build momentum and make you antifragile.

Did the hulk get shredded by running 5Ks? Or was it radioactive something or other?

Obviously, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and if running before you’re physically ready is what you want to do, go for it!

Just do it safely, please! Read the section below on proper running technique!

I would still advise that you focus your efforts on strength training, hiking, long walks on the beach…low impact activities that strengthen rather than deteriorate your body.

But you do you, boo.

If you want any help getting in shape to run your 5K, we got you! We help men and women and self-aware robots with our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. We offer nutritional guidance, professional accountability, and custom workouts!




How to Start the Couch to 5K Program

If you have to chase a dog, you'll be off the couch and running without even trying.

“Steve I’m in. I read all of that jazz above and I am ready to get started. Whether I’m walking or running, I want to start Couch to 5K!”

If you’re ready to do the Couch to 5K program, you can download the following which I believe is the Original Couch to 5K Program (they’ve made it quite tough to find!).

The reason it’s tough to find is they’re pushing people towards the official Couch to 5K App.

This image shows you the original Couch to 5K plan.

Here’s another which I found on Antrandado.com

This image shows you another Couch to 5K plan.

For us Nerds, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the super fun Zombies Run! app, which uses interval training combined with fun audio cues and video game mechanics throughout your running sessions.

What I would do next after downloading the program? Do the first day of training!

These soldiers are ready to start Couch to 5K. Or fight orcs, whichever happens first.

I would also recommend finding a race that’s 2-3 months from now, and sign up for it even if you’re not ready.

Recruit a friend or two to join you in training and the race!

Doing these things create immediate motivation and accountability.

It’s the strategy that Jaime from Nerd Fitness used to get herself in shape: signing up for races in the future that she wasn’t quite ready for yet.

She also strength trained and dramatically overhauled her nutrition, but she used races as great motivational events to stay on target!

Jamie used an upcoming race as motivation for her weight loss journey.

HOW TO FIND A 5K IN YOUR TOWN: Let me google that for you. Type “5K + [your town]”, and I bet there’s a 5k every weekend for the rest of the year coming up. The Couch to 5K app also lists local races for you.

To recap:

  • Pick a race that looks fun that raises money for a good cause
  • Recruit a friend or two
  • Go for your first day of running!

It’s gonna suck, and you’re going to be fine. You’ll get better!

This is exactly what I did years ago when I dressed up like a Caveman with 20 of my friends and raised thousands of dollars for kids with cancer to go to summer camp!

How to Not Get Injured Training For a 5K

This LEGO runs 5Ks while running from people who want to glue him to stuff.

If you don’t learn how to run correctly, you’re doomed to develop an overuse injury and that’s going to negate the whole reason you started running in the first place!

This is Mistake #4: Crappy running form!

When you run, you’re putting hundreds of pounds of pressure on your joints and ligaments with each bounding step down the road.

This is then repeated thousands of times over the course of training and a race.

No wonder nearly every runner has tons of stories of injuries they’ve had to deal with. It can be a brutal activity that can wreak havoc even with good running mechanics.

With poor running mechanics, the results are compounded.

Pay attention to your running technique or things can go wrong!

And not the GOOD kind of “compounded” like compound interest like you learned in 2nd grade with the story about starting with 1 penny a day and doubling it every day for 30 days.

The BAD kind of “compounded” like plantar fasciitis and stress fractures and sore IT bands and torn ligaments and crazy soreness all the time.

We don’t want that.

I’m going to get super granular into proper running technique in this section, so if you already have perfect running form, you can skip this section. But I’d still read it.

Yeah, you should probably read it.

Here are the “5 Steps to Not Sucking at Running a 5K,” thanks to my friend Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running:

1) Lean From Your Ankles

A gif showing you proper running form for your Couch to 5K (lean forward).

Lean from your ankles, and keep a straight line from your ankle, through your butt, and up to your head.

If you’re standing still with this slight forward lean, you should feel like you’re about to fall forward.

When you start running, gravity will help keep you progressing forward. A proper lean from the ankles keeps your body in alignment and loads your muscles properly and efficiently.

2) Increase Your Cadence

Cadence is your stride rate, or the number of steps you take per minute. It will probably seem weird at first, but you’re putting less stress on your legs with shorter foot strikes.

Your cadence should be at least 170-190 steps per minute when you’re running at an easy, conversational pace. It will probably increase once you start running faster—that’s normal.

“Steve, what the hell do I do with “170-190 steps per minute?”

Great question. Go to Spotify and look for 170-190BPM playlists, like these which I found here:

Not on Spotify? Cool. (But like, why?) To get a cadence, try running to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” and time your strides to match the beat. That’s the cadence you’re looking for:

Research has shown[2] that increasing your cadence and taking more steps (around 180 per minute) provides many of the same benefits of barefoot running: less impact shock that goes up your legs, improved running economy (or your efficiency, which means you’ll run faster with less effort!), and a reduced chance of injury.

You’ll feel like you’re taking way more steps than normal – that means you probably had poor form before and now you’re fixing it!

If your legs get to the point where they’re going this fast, let me know:

3) Foot Strike at the Right Time

When your foot comes down and makes contact with the ground, it should be underneath your body, not in front of it.

This gif shows that your foot should be underneath you while running.

Combined with a quick cadence and a slight forward lean from your ankles, you’ll be distributing impact shock evenly—and efficiently.

This aspect of running form is often skipped over by beginning runners.

Instead of focusing on where the foot is landing in relation to the rest of the body, they focus too much on running on their forefoot. If you don’t first land in the right place, a midfoot or forefoot strike will only do more damage.

As you’re running, a good mental cue is to think that you’re just “putting your foot down” in a straight line underneath your body.

There’s no reaching or stretching your leg out in front of you. Practicing this mental cue will have your leg touching down almost exactly underneath your center of mass, distributing your weight evenly and safely.

4) Land on Your Mid-Foot

While not as important as landing underneath your center of mass, becoming a mid-foot striker has a host of benefits.

This gif shows that your foot should come down mid-foot when you are running.

It can help you avoid a lot of injuries by absorbing impact shock and preventing a severe heel striking running stride.

Heel-striking can’t be entirely blamed for injuries and labeled “bad.”

Even elite athletes heel strike when they run races! It’s not entirely bad— especially if you’re putting weight down on your foot just after you heel strike, instead of directly on the heel.[3]

What you should focus on is having a higher cadence, landing underneath your body, and not aggressively heel striking.

Try to land with your foot flat on the ground, instead of with your toes angled upwards.[4]

5) Symmetrical Arm Swing

Nobody wants to look at you running if you’re flailing your arms wildly all over the place like Elaine dancing from Seinfeld.

Don't do this while running...maybe dancing...maybe. Def not during a 5K.

An ideal arm swing has your arm bent at about 90 degrees and a front-to-back swing (not side-to-side).

Like this gif shows, keep your arms at about 90 degrees while running.

Imagine a pretend line that goes down your mid-line or center of your body. When you run, your hands should not cross over this imaginary line.

Cup your hands loosely together (no clenched fists!) and if you want to use your arms for momentum, pump your elbows, not your hands.

Once you incorporate these changes into your running form, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable and your injury risk is going to plummet.

For extra credit, learn to run softly and quietly. Foot stomping isn’t allowed and gets increasingly more difficult as you approach 180 steps per minute.

A few other things you want to keep in mind:

  • Keep a tall back, chest up. No slouching.
  • Look 30-50 meters in front of you – not head down looking at your toes.

Both are easy cues to keep an athletic posture and good running form.

Go back through and read this section a few more times. We know it’s a LOT to think about while running, but it is incredibly important. If you get a chance, have somebody film you running, and then watch your tape back to see how you’re doing.

I should note that we provide form checks to our coaching clients. Through our awesome app, you can record a video of your running form or exercise technique and send it right to your coach! That way you can know your running and training safely and correctly!




10 Tips and Tricks for Training for Your 5K

After today's guide, you can run like the Flash...kind of.

Although the Couch to 5K Program covers specifically how you should be training, it still leaves out quite a few important things (like technique, which I covered above!).

Once you’ve picked your 5K training program, here’s how to get yourself to ACTUALLY follow through on your training!

#1) Recruit an accountability partner. Have somebody that trains with you (or at least somebody you tell about your training), so that each day you can check in with each other.

A friend can be a great asset in starting Couch to 5K.

Wanna be diabolical?

Give somebody else $100 of your money. And tell them you’ll check in with them after your training every day – if you don’t do your run, they’ll donate $50 of that money to a political cause you HATE.

While you’re building the habit of running, you need to make the pain of skipping your run greater than the pain of doing the run.

Do this enough times until you build up enough momentum and get hooked on that runners high so that you actually look forward to training.

#2) Warm-up before, stretch after. Don’t do static stretches before your runs. It’s not doing what you think it is[5]. Instead, you’re going to warm up your muscles through active movement.

  • Do a dynamic warm-up before you run. Continue this by going for a light jog, high knees, and warming up your muscles through movement.
  • Do the following cool-down stretching routine after you run. Stretching after for the win!

#3) Make it the first thing you do each day. Build the habit of doing your run first thing in the morning when life hasn’t had a chance to get in the way.

Sleep in your running clothes.

Put your alarm clock/phone across the room. Put your running shoes by the door. By hacking your Batcave, you’ll minimize the steps between you and the new habit you’re trying to build.

#4) Strength training makes running easier. Doing 1-2 sessions of strength training per week (on days you’re not running) will help you burn fat, build muscle, and stay injury-free.

Follow our Beginner Bodyweight Routine, no equipment required. We’ll have you training with your furniture instead:

Be careful here, but a table can be great to do inverted rows from.

If you sign-up for our free weekly newsletter, I’ll send you a PDF of the workout so you can track your progress.

#5) Don’t worry about your shoes when you start. Wear whatever shoes you have so that you can just get started building the habit immediately. If you START to love running, read our article on proper footwear and get yourself some better kicks.

Get comfy running a little before you invest in new shoes...because you might not actually like running.

The same is true for “running clothes.” Do not let this be a barrier to entry.

Start running first and make sure you like it before you go spending any hard-earned cash on stuff you’re not gonna use.

Oh, and as Coach Jim mentions in the video below, DON’T RUN IN BRAND NEW SHOES!

Trust us on this one.

#6) Sign up for your race as far in advance as possible. Use 20 seconds of courage if you need to, but commit to the race.

If you don’t sign up, you’re going to be much more likely to back out when life gets busy.

Go sign-up for a 5K right now! Don't be too busy like this cat.

But if you pay for it ahead of time, and get other people to run with you, you’re going to be using positive peer pressure to follow through on your commitments.

#7) Your race time doesn’t matter! Who cares if you’re the last person to finish? Like the Rock taught us, it doesn’t matter.

The Rock doesn't care what your 5K time is!

What’s important is that you finish something that you started. That’s a huge accomplishment in itself.

#8) Start a running club or join one at work – the more people you surround yourself with that are doing the things you want to do, the better. Hang out with runners that are faster than you.

You’re the average of the 5 people you associate most with, so you might as well start associating with faster, healthy runners.

#9) Don’t have an in-person running community? That’s cool! Join the Scouts Guild in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

It’s the section of our community that does running, biking, swimming, and other distance-based activities!

#10) Hire a coach. Outside of having a group of friends or co-workers keeping you accountable, a coach who routinely checks in with you and your progress can be a godsend. We’ve helped tons of people build the habit of running!




What Do I do After the Couch to 5k?

What do you do after running your 5K? You eat!!!

You made it through the training, and you ran/walked your first 5K! I’m so proud of you.

Gold star.

A+.

So after successfully completing your first 5K, you may be wondering what you should do next. To run again or not…

Many new runners absolutely love the atmosphere at a race; the number pick- up, pre-race motivational speech, cheering crowds, and crossing that finish line.

Oh, and the post-race beer and meal is the best food and drink you’ve ever tasted.

So after the excitement settles down, you need to ask what you want to do next.

Your three options:

  1. Run Faster: Sign up for another 5K, keep training, and try to beat your previous race time.
  2. Run longer: Maybe you want to run a longer race like a 5 miler, a 10k, or go slay a bigger dragon, like half-marathons or marathons.
  3. Pick a different activity: Going from Couch to 5K to Couch doesn’t help you at all. Temporary changes create temporary results.

Notice there wasn’t a 4th option, the option that usually everybody picks:

“Go back to sitting on the couch”

That’s Mistake #5: not having a plan to CONTINUE exercising after Couch to 5K!

As we say at Nerd Fitness: “Temporary changes create temporary results.”

So you have to do SOMETHING next, otherwise all that hard work and training will have been for naught! 

Want help figuring out exactly where you should go from here? I got you!

Pick the option below that best aligns with your goals and timeline:

#1) Join our walking challenge!

You’re reading this guide at the perfect time because Nerd Fitness is currently hosting a special event, LET’S START TOGETHER: A 5-DAY WALKING CHALLENGE FOR HOBBITSNERDS!

It’s suited for anyone starting their walking or running adventure, since our team of coaches will explain how to start both (plus offer an intro to hiking).

Learn more right here!

#2) We have a bunch of NF Coaching clients that are training for 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, and tough mudders. If you want step-by-step guidance on how to lose weight, eat better, and train for races, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:




3) Check out these other sweet running resources:

To recap our guide on the Couch the 5K plan, these are the 5 Mistakes to avoid:

  1. Running a 5K might be a good way to lose weight. It is entirely dependent on your nutrition. The same is true of literally ANY workout program. (Mistake #1: Not changing your nutrition)
  2. Couch to 5K may or may not be a great program for you. It depends on how much you enjoy running, and what you are hoping to get out of the program. (Mistake #2: not actually enjoying running)
  3. Make sure you are fit enough to endure the rigors of running! If you’re severely overweight, let’s get you in shape FIRST before we put stress on your knees and joints for thousands of running steps. (Mistake #3: Running before you’re ready)
  4. Make sure your running technique is solid. It’ll save you years of pain and injury. (Mistake #4: Running with improper form)
  5. Recruit a friend or find a way to stay accountable so you actually do the race!
  6. Who cares about your race time! Just completing the race should be your goal.
  7. Once you finish the race, decide if you want to keep running or if you are going to pick a different activity. (Mistake #5: Not having another goal after completing your 5K)

Okay, it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your experiences when it comes to training for a 5K, and if you enjoyed the process.

Have you DONE Couch to 5K? Did you stick with it?

What challenges did you run into along the way?

Share it in the comments below!

-Steve

PS: I’ll leave you with a final reminder of our 1-on-1 Coaching Program. If you’re blown away by the fact that you don’t have to run to get in shape, but don’t know where else to begin, we got you.

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

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photo credit: mripp Fun run, 632imagine © 123RF.com,Four Bricks Tall Morning run with the Fitbit and Laughing Buddha, clement127 Halloween is coming!!, Flash, and Banquet, Andreas Just a Lego Minifig, Reiterlied Wandering in the North,



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How to Start Working Out (Consistently)

How to Start Working Out (Consistently)


LEGO Rugby players in action.

So you’re having trouble working out consistently?

I get it. 

Life is busy and hectic. You probably wear multiple hats in your life.

Hopefully, one of them is a pirate hat:

Cartman from South Park as a pirate.

If you are having trouble exercising regularly, know that you aren’t alone. 

Not being able to work out consistently is one of the top issues facing our clients in Nerd Fitness Coaching. Luckily, there are some tips and tricks that help them, which we’ll share with you right now too. 




Here’s what we’ll cover today:

Let’s jump right in!

Step 1: Why You Miss Workouts

As I mention in the video above, it’s okay to stumble – everyone misses a workout now and again.

Life happens:

  • Your job might need you to stay late. 
  • Maybe your spouse can’t pick up the kids today.
  • Or perhaps you just lost track of time while playing video games.

A black and white gif of hands using a video game controller.

These things happen, so don’t freak out whenever you miss a workout.

“Wait, wait, wait Jim! I thought this article was about consistency – then you start off saying it’s OK to miss a workout?”

What I’m saying is to not beat yourself up over it. I’ll see people be so tough on themselves for one missed workout, that it spirals downward and then they’re doing NO workouts.

It’s unnecessary, and it’s not sustainable.

Here’s something I remind my clients: If being tough on yourself helped with workout consistency, it would’ve helped by now.

So first of all, forgive yourself.

A gif of Woody saying "You'll be fine"

Then, I share with them a saying we have here at Nerd Fitness:

“Never Two in a Row.”

As Rebel Leader Steve mentions in the video below, it means aim to not miss two workouts, back to back:

It’s a mantra you’ll hear throughout the Rebellion (our community!). 

Here’s the justification: as I mentioned, missing one workout is nbd. 

However, two workouts in a row could be the start of a trend. If you’re not careful, after a few missed workouts, you could just stop exercising altogether. 

That’s the real danger.

So we aim to not allow the trend to start in the first place.

Takeaway: If you miss a workout, it’s fine. Just try not to miss the next one.

Step 2: Building a Workout Plan

 A statue of Ben Franklin

Here’s a great quote from Benjamin Franklin:

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.

When it comes to working out consistently, we need to define what “consistently” actually means.

For that, it’s time to build a workout routine.

As Coach Staci mentions in the video above, we want to focus on three key questions when programming our training:

  • What type of workout are you doing?
  • When do you plan on doing your training?
  • Where will this workout take place?

All three questions are important, but we’re going to focus on “when” right now.

Determining “when” you’ll train is easily the most important step for working out consistently.

That’s why I want you to place your workouts in your calendar!

A Calendar that says "Start Work" and "Finish Work."

Schedule your workout like it’s the most important meeting of the day!

(A reminder that you ARE important!)

That’s what I have my clients do in our 1-on-1 Coaching Program. It goes a long way to helping them stick to their workout schedule. 

So if you plan on training first thing at 8am, have a calendar reminder go off at 7:50am. 

It’ll make a difference. I promise. 

What days should be workout days?

For that, I have a couple of resources to share with you:

  1. How to Build Your Own Workout Routine. Our MASSIVE guide will teach you exactly how to create a training schedule, including what exercises to do and when to take rest days. If you want to get your hands dirty by building your own workout, this is the way to do it.
  2. Nerd Fitness Journey. Our fun habit-building app will tell you exactly when to workout, with video tutorials for every exercise covered. No need to create a plan, just open up the app and check your missions for the day. Plus, you’ll build your very own superhero as you go, which is totally sweet. You can try it out for free right below:

Step 3: Why “All of Nothing” Hurts Workout Consistency

A LEGO Firefighter on a bullhorn.

Another one of the best things you can do to improve your workout consistency: have a backup plan.

Let’s say a pipe bursts at your gym, and it’s closed for the next few days.

Does that mean you should stop working out until they resolve their plumbing emergency?

A gif of Mario and Luigi being forced down a drain.

It could be a while…

No!

It just means you’ll have to work out at home, in a nearby playground, or maybe you just focus on long walks for the next few days.

That’s why it’s always good to have a backup for any regular emergency like:

Remember, just because your initial plan falls through, doesn’t mean you have to completely throw in the towel.

Or as I jokingly tell my clients, just because one tire goes flat, doesn’t mean you should slash the other three.

A man slashing a tire

Just do the best you can to get back on the road.

Step 4: The Key to Getting in Regular Exercise

A picture of a LEGO dog sitter.

If I have one single piece of advice on how to get in more daily movement, it would be this: do something you enjoy.

Every workout doesn’t have to be a slog.

You can schedule things you enjoy like:

We 100% endorse this game.

If you enjoy the activity, you’ll be WAY more likely to exercise consistently.

For more tips here, here are 40 Ways to Exercise (Without Realizing It)

Here’s another trick to start enjoying your workouts – do them while listening to some of your favorite music, or a podcast you enjoy.

Heck, you can even flip the TV on in the corner and watch your favorite show while you train.

We call this “Temptation Bundling” and I’ve seen it help a lot of my clients:

  • If you only listen to your favorite podcast when you run, eventually, you might start looking forward to running.
  • The same thing could happen with music. If you start to associate your favorite tunes with building up a sweat, one day you might actually enjoy building up a sweat.
  • Let’s say you only watch The Great British Bake Off while on your elliptical. If that’s the case, you’re going to start protecting your time exercising (“Don’t bother me now”).

Don’t overlook the power of coupling activities you enjoy with your workouts. 

Step 5: How to Build Workout Accountability

Two Legos about to workout together.

Another strategy we can deploy when improving workout consistency: accountability and support.

There’s nothing quite like being accountable to another human being when it comes to exercising regularly.

There are a few ways we can create workout accountability:

#1) Tell Friends and Family

Share your goals with your loved ones, then let them know the times you’ll be working out.

This will help for a couple of reasons:

  • We’re more likely to follow through with action if we commit ourselves in front of others.
  • If we don’t show up for a workout, they may politely call us out on it.

A Police Officer at the door saying Someone saying "I Know You're In There"

#2) Join an Online Community

In the 21st century, it’s very easy to find a group of people who are on a similar mission.

If you want to exercise regularly, I’d wager you aren’t the only person on the internet working towards that goal.

So join a digital community! That way you can get in on some group accountability.

We regularly hold group challenges through our app, Nerd Fitness Journey. I’ve been told by countless Rebels that they’re more likely to get their training in if they know everyone else in the community is doing it too.

Heck, I did burpees in the snow because everyone in the Rebellion was doing a burpee challenge.

Jim doing the burpee challenge

If you want to try out some of these experiences, you can sign-up for a free trial to our snazzy new app right here:

If you want some next-level accountability, I have to mention the ultimate power-up: hire a coach.

It could be a personal trainer in a gym, or you can go digital with an online coach.

Either way, having someone you check in with weekly (who will also program your workouts) is one of the best ways to exercise consistently.

If you know a coach will ask you about your workouts, you’re going to be more likely to do them.

If you’re interested in learning if you’d be a good fit for one of our online coaches, you can click on the big yellow button below:




Step 6: The Problems With Exercise and Workout Motivation

In the video above, Steve outlines the problems with motivation

I think all of my clients should watch the video. 

That’s because I’ll often hear them say “I need more motivation to workout” or “I’m just not motivated to exercise.”

This is the wrong frame of mind.

Action creates motivation, not the other way around.

For example, let’s imagine a new client. They don’t particularly like working out and they aren’t very motivated to do it.

But they do it anyway.

Then, after a few weeks of successful workouts, they’ll start to recognize the trend they’ve begun.

A gif of Anakin saying "It's Working!"

Our coaching app tracks all the training we assign, so I’ll often see my clients rejoice when they’ve “hit 20 workouts!” 

It feels good to recognize they’re making progress, which often makes them more motivated to exercise.

So they keep working out. 

The problem: getting started in the first place can be tough.

That’s why you should start with ANYTHING that breaks the inertia.

Coach Matt breaks it all down for you here:

As a beginner, your first step is the most important. And often the hardest.

In our Beginner’s Guide to Starting Your Fitness Journey, we recommend your first workouts be something simple to get started: a walk.

It could be a half-mile around the block. Or it could be to the mailbox and back. 

The exact amount doesn’t matter, but being intentional is. That’s how we work to build consistency.

So do a short walk today. Then another one the day after tomorrow. Then a third two days from then.

Boom, three workouts in one week, all by just walking. 

Step 7: How to Find Time to Workout

A picture of three hourglasses.

I’ll be real with you: no one is sitting around, twiddling their thumbs with time to kill.

If you’re going to make time to work out, you’ll need to figure out what activity in your life you can change or eliminate:

  • Maybe your two-hour nightly TV ritual can come down to an hour.
  • Maybe you start biking home from work instead of driving.
  • Maybe you catch up with your spouse over an evening walk instead of a drink.

This is why scheduling your workouts in your calendar can be so critical – it helps you see what needs to be moved around to get your training done.

Also, it’s okay to experiment here.

A god doing a science experiment

If you create a schedule, and you don’t hit it all, it’s okay. 

Perhaps you just created an unrealistic schedule.

If so, then modify the workout:

  • Try a 30-minute workout instead of an hour.
  • Try two workouts a week instead of three.
  • Go around the block once instead of twice.

Again, we’re not worried about the amount of time here. Instead, we’re concerned about you hitting your workout schedule consistently. It’s okay to scale down to do that.

Once you’re rocking and rolling, we can always scale it up if it seems right.

If you want some tips on how to gauge your adherence to sticking with your workout schedule, then check out How to Track Your Fitness Progress.  

Start Working Out Consistently

This runner definitely has a strong core!

There you have it, my friend. 

To recap…

Here’s How to Work Out Consistently:

  • Step 1: It’s okay to stumble (Forgive yourself). Everyone I know misses a workout here or there. It’s nothing to feel shame over. 
  • Step 2: Have a plan! Without scheduling your week’s workouts, how do you even know if you’re being consistent or not?
  • Step 3: Have a backup plan! (Lose the “all or nothing” mindset). If your first plan falls through, nbd. Just move onto the next one. “Some” workout is always better than “no” workout. Do the best you can.
  • Step 4: Make it fun. Your workout doesn’t need to be something you dread. If you like hiking, go hiking. If you like swimming, go swimming. Any movement is beneficial and should be encouraged. No one said you have to hate it.
  • Step 5: Find an accountability partner. Going alone is almost always harder. If you can find a friend or coach to team with, it will make working out consistently easier.
  • Step 6: Embrace “action” not “motivation.” If you have to wait around for motivation to start working out, you might be waiting for quite a while. You’ll become motivated after you act.
  • Step 7: Don’t find time, make time. Your schedule won’t magically free itself. Look at your calendar and start prioritizing.

That’s it.

The most important thing you can do now today: START!

If you wanna win a race, you need to start it!

Not tomorrow. Not next Monday.

Today!

If you don’t know what to do, look at the next free spot on your calendar. Then schedule a walk.

Then schedule it a couple of days later.

Then the following week.

BOOM! You just started a plan for working out consistently.

As always, if you need any help here, we gotcha. 

Here are three ways that Nerd Fitness can help you exercise regularly:

#1) Our Online Coaching Program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.

As I said, this is the ultimate way to build workout accountability. Not only will a NF Coach build your workout, but they’ll check in with you too to make sure you’re able to do it.

If you can’t? 

No problem, they’ll work with you to create a new plan.

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:




#2) If you want an exact roadmap for working out consistently, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app tells you exactly what days to exercise, what days to rest, and helps you track it all so you know if it’s working for you.

Interested?

Try your free trial right here:

#3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our Rebel Starter Kit, which includes all of our “work out at home” guides, our Strength Training 101 eBook, and much more!

Alright, I want to hear from you now:

What’s your biggest issue with working out consistently?

What tips helped the most?

Are we missing any helpful suggestions for a beginner?

Let me know in the comments!

-Jim

###

Photo Source: Rugby Player, Bruce Emmerling © 123RF.com, Firefighter, Dog Sitter, Bicycle, Toxic, choneschones © 123RF.com, Morning run with the Fitbit



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How to Build Muscle as a Woman (5 Workouts)

How to Build Muscle as a Woman (5 Workouts)


Staci's life has been transformed by her quest to growth muscle.


If you are interested in learning how to gain weight the right way, you have come to the right place! 

My name is Staci Ardison.

I overcame an eating disorder, discovered a love for heavy strength training, and now I help women like you get stronger for a living.

Believe it or not, I’m 50 pounds heavier in the photo on the right (and WAY stronger, and healthier, and happier!).

I’m currently a lead coach here in the Nerd Fitness Coaching Program, where we train women to pick up heavy weights, get strong, and build confidence.



Speaking of picking up heavy weights, here I am deadlifting 455 pounds:

Staci showing you how to deadlift 455 pouds.

This is what I LOVE to do.

In this Ultimate Guide to Building Muscle as a Woman, I’m going to be covering:

Alright, let’s do this.

Why Building Muscle is Difficult for Some Women

A group of different LEGO women ready to build muscle.

As Steve covered in “How to build muscle” and “How to bulk up for men,” the principles of weight gain are all the same regardless of your sex or gender:

“If you want to gain weight, eat more calories than you burn regularly. Want to put on the right KIND of weight? Exercise and eat the right way too.”

Now, there’s plenty of nuance to this when comparing men and women:

  • Due to our natural hormones, it’s generally more difficult for people with typical female anatomy to gain muscle than people with typical male anatomy.[1]
  • We have a lot of factors (such as hormonal birth control) that have been proven to make it even harder as well.[2]

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

It just means we have to work harder for it.

Mary isn't happy, but will build muscle anyway.

Ugh, I know.

Now, one thing I want to touch on quick: if you see a woman who is absolutely jacked and at an extremely low body fat percentage, I guarantee she has been working her butt off for a very long time with the goal of building muscle.

It’s not something that happens overnight, or by mistake.

In addition, some women with larger amounts of muscle mass choose to take steroids to help assist them in gaining muscle, because we simply don’t have the hormones naturally to get to that size.

So if you’d like to build muscle, but not as much as a professional bodybuilder – don’t worry, it’s not something that happens by accident.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about body fat and body types:

As we point out in that body fat percentage guide, we women can look very different at any weight depending on our body shape and how much muscle we have. It comes down to our own personal goals!

This picture shows different body fat % of women.

This guide is going to primarily focus on two things:

  1. How to eat to gain weight and build muscle.
  2. How to strength train to build muscle.

We’ve helped thousands of women with our online coaching program, many of whom are trying to gain weight and strength train for the first time in their lives.



Everybody is on their own journey, at their own pace, and everybody will end up with different results too!

Should Women Build Muscle? (7 Reasons Women Should Grow Muscle)

This woman built lots of muscle on her journey to became an astronaut.

If it can be harder for women to gain muscle (compared to men), why go through the trouble?

I’m glad you asked!

Here are the top 7 reasons why women should strength train:

#1) When you’re stronger – everyday life is easier. No need to call for help to get that 50lb bag of dog food off the top shelf, or carrying an air conditioner unit up a flight of stairs. LIFE is easier when you’re stronger. 

#2) Less injury risk – when you build strong muscles, you’re also building stronger bones, ligaments, and tendons, making you less prone to injury doing things you love (like playing in a quidditch league).[3]

#3) Helps combat age-related muscle loss,[4] allowing us to remain independent longer as we age:

#4) Muscle is harder to maintain, which means you need to eat more just to hold on to it.[5]

#5) Reduce pain – having a strong body makes living easier on your joints, as well as allows you to hold a better posture, and reduce back / hip pain.[6]

#6) Appearance – this is a personal preference! Some women like to have a lot of muscle, and some don’t. While you can’t spot reduce fat, you can choose to build more muscle in specific areas, changing your body shape. Growing up, I was an extreme pear shape, but due to strength training, I now have more of an hourglass shape. 

You can see that Staci has changed the way she looks from strength training!

#7) Live longer – want to spend more time on Earth? Strength training and growing muscle will help you do just that.[7]



How to Eat to Gain Muscle as a Woman

This woman knows gaining muscle relies on a proper diet...like seafood!

As we said above, gaining weight comes down to thermodynamics and science.

Every day, we burn a certain number of calories just existing, which is called our BMR (basal metabolic rate). We then factor in our daily activity level, and get a number that is called our “total daily energy expenditure.” You can calculate yours below.

The Nerd Fitness Calorie Calculator:

(Click here for our Metric calculator).

(Note: we have used The Mifflin-St Jeor Equation to create this calculator! [8]).

Since we want to gain weight, we want to take our TDEE and add 250 calories to it to get our daily goal. This should result in gaining about half a pound per week.

Now, although eating ANY EXTRA calories from any source will result in weight gain, our goal is to gain the RIGHT kind of weight, in a healthy way.

And thus, we’ll be focusing our efforts on a “healthy muscle building” strategy.

We could easily add more calories each day, and gain weight quicker, however, the slow method gives you the best chances at gaining mostly muscle, with minimal fat. The faster you try to gain weight, the higher the percentage that will likely be fat – so starting off at half a pound per week is a great place to start!

A small addition of calories, will help you gain muscle with minimal fat gain as well. So slow and steady is the ticket.

In addition to the number of calories we’ll be adding, we also want to pay attention to the type of foods we’re eating.

As we cover in our “Healthy Eating Guide,” we’re going to build muscle by consuming the three big macros in the correct quantities:

  • Protein: rebuilds muscle after you break it down.
  • Carbohydrates: provides your muscle with fuel and body with energy.
  • Fat: helps your bodily functions and can also be burned as fuel in the absence of carbs.

Let’s look at each of these individually:

PRIORITY #1: PROTEIN

Protein can come from any number of sources, including:

  • Meat (steak, bison, pork).
  • Fowl (chicken, turkey, duck).
  • Eggs![9]
  • Cheese and dairy.
  • Fish and shellfish (salmon, tuna, shrimp).
  • Legumes (black beans, chickpeas).
  • Other vegetarian protein sources here.

As we cover in our “How much Protein do I need?”, claims for the amount of protein required for muscle growth vary wildly from source to source (and athlete to athlete).

While meat sticks do have protein, try and stick to something less processed.

Here is our recommendation:

  • If you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to build muscle, aim for 1 g per pound of body weight (2.2 g/kg).
  • If you’re an experienced lifter on a bulk, intakes up to 1.50 g/lb (3.3 g/kg) may help you minimize fat gain.

Let me simplify it for you:

“To build muscle, target at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (2.2 grams per kg).”

If you’re curious, from our healthy eating article, this is what a portion of protein looks like:

A serving of protein should be about the size of your palm, like so.

Here’s how much protein is in a serving of food:

  • 4 oz (113 g) of chicken has around 30 g of protein.
  • 4 oz (113 g) of salmon has 23 g of protein
  • 4 oz (113 g) of steak has 28 g of protein.

Want to get more protein? Consider protein shakes.

PRIORITY #2: CARBS

After protein, we’ll be filling up our plate with calories from carbs (and fats).

Here are foods full of carbohydrates you can prioritize:

  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Legumes and lentils
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams
  • Regular potatoes
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Whole grain bread

To help you get better at serving sizes:

Showing you a serving of carbs

1 serving of a starchy carbohydrate is 1 cupped hand (uncooked), or your two hands forming a cup (cooked).

Here are some images to help you learn proper portion sizes (thanks to SafeFood):

This picture will help you determine proper serving sizes for carbs!

In addition to consuming carbohydrates from these sources, it’s okay to consume plenty of fruit while trying to build muscle!

For reference, here is roughly 200 calories worth of an apple (thanks to WiseGEEK):

This is about 200 calories of apple.

You can read our full “Is fruit healthy?” guide to learn more.

PRIORITY #3: FAT! 

Fat is a macronutrient that can help you reach your calorie goals (in the right quantity), as fat can be high in calories. Plus, you can eat lots of it without feeling full. Helpful if you’re trying to put on weight.

Healthy fat can be found in foods like:

  • Avocado
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Almond butter
  • Peanut butter

Science has recently come around on saturated fat too.[10] Once completely vilified, but now considered okay for moderate consumption.

Saturated fats can come from things like:

  • Whole milk
  • Full fat dairy
  • Coconut oil
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Lard

To help you gauge: a serving size of fat is roughly the size of your thumb!

A serving of fat should be about your thumb!

For reference, this is a single serving of almonds (162 calories):

Knowing the correct amount of almonds to eat can help you with your calorie goals.

THIS is a serving of olive oil (119 calories):

This shows the serving size of olive oil, which is very dense calorie wise.

As you can see, you can eat an extra 500 calories of “healthy fats” by eating lots of “heart-healthy” fats like nuts or adding more olive oil to your meals.

PRIORITY #4: VEGETABLES!

Last but not least, you need vegetables in your diet.

As you start to eat more food, your stomach, intestines, and other bodily functions will thank you for consuming more high-fiber vegetables! 

A serving of veggies is about the size of your fist.

A serving of veggies should be the size of your first (or greater).

Here’s a quick, non-complete list of high-fiber veggies that can fill your plate:

  • Broccoli
  • Broccolini
  • Cauliflower
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Spaghetti squash[11]
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Carrots
  • Onion
  • Asparagus

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER: A HEALTHY MUSCLE-BUILDING PLATE

If your meal plate looks like this, you're doing a lot of the heavy lifting for weight loss.

This plate and serving size stuff above is just to help you get started thinking about healthy food differently and in proper portion sizes.

TO RECAP, HERE’S HOW TO EAT TO BUILD MUSCLE:

  • Calculate your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) and add 250 calories over your number.
  • Consume 1-1.5g per pound (2.2-3.3g per kg) of body weight in protein every day.
  • Consume the rest of your calories from foods composed of carbs and fats.
  • Always eat vegetables so that your body can actually PROCESS all this extra food. I like to aim for half of my plate of vegetables.
  • If you are not gaining weight, (and you’re hitting your protein goals), add more carbs and/or fats to your meal.

It really does come down to the following:

If you are not gaining weight fast enough, you’re not eating enough. Increase your portions of carbs and fats!

Whenever we work with coaching clients who struggle to build muscle, this is the area we target: adding more carbs and fats to each meal.



8 Strength Training Exercises For Women to Build Muscle

This woman knows exactly how to build muscle...she does it by lifting that sword and shield!

Years from now, you’ll look back and thank “Past You” for starting strength training today.

And don’t worry, I’m going to tell you exactly what to do so you can start strength training TODAY!

Here’s why strength training is so important: when you eat a caloric surplus (more calories than your body needs each day), the extra calories have to go somewhere.

  • If you don’t do any exercise, your body will choose to store the extra calories as fat for later.
  • However, when you strength train, your muscles are broken down. Then they’ll use the extra calories to rebuild themselves bigger and stronger over the next 48 hours!

“Staci that sounds great, but I’ve never strength trained before, and I don’t know what I’m doing…Halp!” You might be saying into your computer or phone.

Fear not! I’ll help. Strength training doesn’t need to be scary or overly complicated.

Gonzo knows he has to eat protein to match his strength training goals, but he doesn't eat chicken, for obvious reasons.

Simply put, “strength training” means two things:

#1) “Movement of any weight against “resistance” (including your body weight) – Doing ANY exercise that pushes your muscles outside of their comfort zone, forcing them to rebuild stronger to prepare for the next challenge.

#2) Progressive overload: doing slightly more than last time (lift a heavier weight or do 1 more rep) consistently. Your muscles will have to constantly adapt and rebuild themselves stronger. This is called “progressive overload.”

Coach Jim breaks down different strategies for progressive overload in this video:

This means if you drop down and do ONE push-up or knee push-up right now…

Knee push-ups like this are a great way to progress to a regular push-up!

Technically, you’ve strength trained.

Now do that and then do a bodyweight squat…

Do a proper bodyweight squat to work out your legs

Boom, you just did a strength training workout.

Here’s what you need to know about strength training:

  1. Strength training is one of the BEST things you can do for yourself.
  2. Strength training will help you put on muscle while eating in a surplus.
  3. While you can’t spot reduce fat, you can focus on building more muscle in specific areas, which can help you attain a specific look you’re going for.
  4. If you don’t like the gym, you don’t need to go, ever. But I hope you do. Because that’s the easiest way to start training with weights.
  5. Regardless of your fitness level, body fat percentage, strength level, or biological sex, you have every right to be in the free weights section in the gym, training with heavy weights, with everybody else. The people in the gym who are very strong with a lot of muscle started somewhere, too!

I used to be a CrossFit instructor, and my favorite thing about CrossFit was that it destigmatized barbell training and heavy lifting for many women.

Crossfit is great in that in shows it's okay for women to lift heavy weights.

In order for us to strength train and build muscle, we’re going to approach this intelligently. 

We’re not going to pick up small dumbbells and do lots of reps.

We’re not going to sit down at various machines and scroll through our phones while doing leg curls.

Instead, we’re going to:

  • Get very strong with compound movements that recruit LOTS of muscles to work together.
  • Do our workouts quickly and get out of there. The workout should take no longer than 45-60 minutes.

This is how we efficiently build muscle in the minimum amount of time. What are the exercises that we’re going to target?

1) The Push-Up: The best exercise you could ever do for yourself when it comes to using your bodyweight for push muscles (your chest, shoulders, and triceps):

2The Bodyweight Squat: This exercise serves a dual purpose: it is the foundation for building strength AND helps build proper mobility. If you are going to ever do barbell squats, you need to work on hitting proper depth with a bodyweight squat first!

3The Inverted Bodyweight RowUntil you can get your first pull-up or chin-up, these exercises are GREAT to start building your pull-muscle strength (your back, biceps, and forearms).

4) The Pull-Up and Chin-UpOnce you can support your body’s weight above the bar, the world becomes your playground. No strength training routine should be without pull-up or chin-up work! (Click here if you can’t do a pull-up or chin-up yet):

And now we’re into the best weight training exercises:

5) The Barbell SquatProbably the best exercise when it comes to building strength and muscle throughout your whole body. It also burns crazy calories and makes life better. This is a MUST:

6) The Barbell DeadliftMaybe the best exercise of all time. Actually no, it IS the best exercise of all time. It’s certainly the most primal: “pick the weight up off the ground. Done.”

This is a very technical lift, so make sure you read our article on how to deadlift with proper form:

7) The Barbell Bench PressLie on a bench, squeeze your shoulder blades to keep your back tight, and then lower a barbell until it almost touches your chest. Pause, and then press it back up towards the sky. Repeat! And get strong.

8) Barbell Overhead Press: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and lean back by pushing your hips forward. While keeping your entire body tight, press the bar overhead.

Once the bar passes your forehead, move your body back under the bar by driving your torso forward and back into a standing position. At the top of the lift shrug your shoulders slightly and lock your elbows.

These are some of the best compound exercises you can complete in order to build muscle. Want more muscle? Great! Get stronger at these movements!

One quick note: when I first started lifting, it took a while to build up the strength to be able to bench press or overhead press with the 45-lb bar. If your gym doesn’t have a lighter bar, dumbbells are a great option!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Commit to trying ONE of these movements in the next week. Use 20 seconds of courage, recruit a friend who has lifted or trained before, and try your best.

We know you can use this guide to start building muscle...you got this!

I have three options for you next:

  1. Select one of the muscle-building routines for women in the next section.
  2. Build your own workout routine using these exercises!
  3. Work with me and our coaching program to follow a custom strength training routine for your goals.



5 Muscle Building Workout Routines For Women

No matter which version of wonder woman it is, she always knows the fastest way to build muscle (fight for justice).

I’m going to walk you through three different levels of strength training, and by the end of today, you’re going to know exactly how to get started.

My advice: do 2-3 strength training routines per week, with 1-2 days off in between. As the saying goes: “muscle isn’t built in the gym, it’s built in the kitchen!”

The Swedish Chef knows how to eat to build muscle (lots of food), which is why he's always cooking.

So your goal should be to do a strength training routine, and then make sure you eat a caloric surplus so that your body has enough calories to rebuild your muscles bigger and stronger!

LEVEL 1: BODYWEIGHT TRAINING

Here’s a beginner bodyweight training routine you can do in the comfort of your own home:

  • 20 Bodyweight squats.
  • 10 Push-ups.
  • 10 Walking lunges (each leg).
  • 10 Dumbbell rows (use a milk jug or other weight).
  • 15 Second Plank.
  • 30 Jumping jacks.

We also have a downloadable worksheet of this beginner’s workout that you can print out and hang on your fridge to track your progress! Get it when you sign up below:

LEVEL 2: DUMBBELL WORKOUT

If you have dumbbells at home or access to a gym, you can pick our Level 4 workout from our 6-Level Gym Workout Routine.

So your Dumbbell Workout is 3 circuits of the following:

  • 10 goblet squats (holding the dumbbell like a goblet with 2 hands):

The goblet squat is a great way to build muscle for women.

  • 10 push-ups (or knee push-ups):

This gif shows Staci doing a push-up in perfect form.

As you get lower, like this, the row will be harder to do. Great way to progress into a pull-up.

(By the way, these are two GREAT exercises towards getting your first pull-up)

LEVEL 2: BEGINNER KETTLEBELL WORKOUT

If you have a Kettlebell at home, here’s a 20-Minute Beginner Kettlebell Workout you can do:

Do 3 circuits of this Kettlebell Workout: 

  • 8 Halos (each side)
  • 10 Goblet Squats
  • 8 Overhead Presses (each side)
  • 15 Kettlebell Swings
  • 8 Bent Over Rows (each side)
  • 6 Front Rack Reverse Lunge (per side)

If you like this Kettlebell workout and want to follow along on a worksheet, simply print out our Kettlebell Workout and bring it with you:

LEVEL 3: BARBELL GYM WORKOUT

Here’s a Barbell workout you can follow from our Level 5 Gym Workout Routine.

BARBELL BATALLION WORKOUT A:

  • 3 sets of 10 barbell squats

This gif shows Staci doing a push-up in perfect form.

  • 3 sets of 10 bodyweight rows:

Start with inclined inverted rows for your pull-up workout. Then drop lower for more required effort.

BARBELL BATALLION WORKOUT B:

  • 3 sets of 5 barbell Romanian deadlifts (video pulled from our courses in Nerd Fitness Prime)

  • 3 sets of 10 bench presses:

  • 3 sets of 5 pull-ups, assisted pull-ups, or negative pull-ups:

A box can be used instead of a chair for a pull-up.

PICK A WORKOUT, GET STARTED!

The whole point is to do challenging movements that really make your muscles work, and then try to do ONE more rep, or lift a SLIGHTLY heavier weight next time! 

Don’t sweat the small details and instead use 20 seconds of courage to get started!

Track your workouts by writing down what you did, and then do what you can next time.

If you really want to level up quickly, LEARN HOW TO DO SQUATS AND HOW TO DO DEADLIFTS. These two exercises changed my life!

Squats and deadlifts helped me build muscle and changed my life.

“Staci, that’s still too many choices! Can you just tell me what workout routine to follow?”

Okay fine! Here’s what I would do if I was you.

Still overwhelmed? Check out our coaching program. We get to learn your story, and then build a program and strategy around your goals that you CAN do.

Christina learned to do pull-ups with NF Coaching

10 Tips for Building Muscle as a Woman

This woman is on her way to build muscle and to find water.

I interviewed multiple other coaches on our team and asked for their best advice on how to build muscle as a woman.

Here’s what they said:

Susy (Coach, BS in Psychology, Certificate III & IV in Fitness, 5+ years of experience)

Tip #1: Food is your friend when you are looking to build muscle and get stronger – your body will need fuel, so you may need to eat more on the days that you work out!

Tip #2: Strength and muscle building requires structure to your workouts – you progress through getting better at specific movements, so make sure that you enjoy the style and structure of your workouts so that you can be as consistent as possible.

Tip #3: Your progress will always be fastest if you avoid injury, so correct form and listening to your body is super important. Your muscles will fatigue and feel sore, but joint pain and sharp, stabby pain means something isn’t moving quite right.

Kerry (Coach, NASM-CPT, 6+ years of experience)

Kerry is one of our great female coaches here at Nerd Fitness.

Tip #4: Fall in love with the process. Getting stronger is a journey, one that is both rewarding and challenging. So no matter where you are starting from, take the time to celebrate each small step along the way towards a more badass version of yourself!

Christy (Coach, BS in Applied Health/Fitness, National Personal Training Institute Graduate, Precision Nutrition Certification, 6+ years of experience)

Christy is one of our great coaches and loves everything Star Wars, as shown here.

Tip #5: To get strong, you gotta lift weights. When lifting weights to get strong, you gotta be okay with testing your boundaries every now and then.

After exercising with your current weight, for the next training session…stop…and try a few reps with the next weight UP to test it out! It might surprise you how much more weight you can lift!

Here are some other tips to help you build muscle.

Tip #6: Boost your testosterone naturally: Consume enough saturated and monounsaturated fats, keep your sugar intake low, and make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D and Zinc.

These are items linked with boosting your testosterone naturally.[12]

Speaking of testosterone – I know you may think of this as a “male” hormone, but it plays a huge part in women muscle building,[13] fat loss,[14] increase bone mass,[15] and many other health-related issues[16](remember: estrogen is made from testosterone).

Yes, women need plenty of testosterone too.

Men make about ten to fifteen times what we make naturally,[17] but it doesn’t mean we don’t need it too.

Another way we can help our testosterone levels is to watch our cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a hormone that is promoted by stress and reduces free testosterone levels (in addition to signaling for your body to store fat).[18]

Want a way to naturally lower your cortisol levels? Try meditation.[19]

Tip #7: Not getting bigger? Eat more food.

Focus on more fats and carbs. They are the easiest ways to increase your total calories.

You can check out our Guide to Build Muscle for more specific tips on how to eat more food.

If you're not bulking up, eat more, like Kirby here!

Tip #8: Make sure every meal has a solid protein source.

Protein is needed for building muscle, so prioritize this above all else when you sit down to eat.

Having trouble getting it all down? Buy a blender!

A blender can help you obtain more calories for weight gain.

Steve drinks two smoothies a day to reach his protein goals and you can check out our Guide to Protein Shakes for his personal recipe.

On the go with no blender? I like to keep protein powder with me in a small Ziploc bag – that way I can grab a bottle of water, rip off the corner of the Ziploc bag, and use that as a funnel to get the powder into the water bottle. Then, just replace the cap and shake and you’ve got a protein-filled snack!

Tip #9: Get more sleep! When you build muscle, your body is working overtime, burning extra calories. It’s going to need some time to recover. Remember, muscle is built when you rest, not when you actually lift.

Go to bed!

Tip #10: Start today!

Gaining muscle comes down to eating right and strength training. Let’s get you lifting today!

Try some push-ups and squats as we discussed in our strength training section. Tomorrow we can work on eating right and lifting more.

The most important step you can take today is to begin.

Like Bugs here, we want you to start! No matter what you do, take one small step today!

Let’s give you some more tips to get you going.

Building Muscle: Next Steps!

Climbing mountains is a great way to build muscle (man or woman).

If I can narrow down building muscle for women, it would be three main points:

  1. Get stronger by picking up heavy stuff or doing more challenging bodyweight movements.
  2. Get bigger by eating lots of food.
  3. Recover faster by sleeping enough and giving your muscles days off to rebuild.

That’s it. You can do this.

We know that you are ready to start your muscle building practice today!

If you made it this far, and you want more specific instruction and guidance, we have a few options for you:

1) If you are somebody that wants to follow a tailor-made program designed around their life and goals, check out our popular 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program.

You’ll work with our certified NF instructors who will get to know you better than you know yourself, check your form, and program your workouts and nutrition for you.

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

2) If you want an exact blueprint for growing strong, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Try your free trial right here:

3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. It’ll help you begin your journey on building muscle.

Lastly, I’d love to hear from you!

PLEASE leave your questions, eating or strength or otherwise below so we can answer them and become best friends and practice karate kicks in the garage:

How can I help you get bigger and stronger?

What part of this journey are you still struggling the most with?

What are your favorite bulking up foods!?

Share with your friends in the comments so we can all go buy it in bulk at Costco.

-Staci

PS: Make sure you check out the rest of our Strength Building Articles!

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Photo sources: Women’s Day 2015, Sea spray, The Viking, The Evolution of LEGO Wonder Woman, Apocalyptic Motorcycle, Person Mountain,



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