A Seemingly Contrarian Take On Staying Fit

Livvy After WalkWow, I just kicked some serious ass and want to tell you about it. It took me 24 minutes and 31 seconds to walk 1.53 miles around the hood with my dog. During this brutal journey I maintained a 16 minute per mile pace, an average heart rate of 110 beats per minute, and burned 118 calories. And yes, I’m being facetious, but only partially so. Admittedly my old-school self wouldn’t have regarded this as any form of workout. I mean, how many of you go on Facebook and read frequent accountings of grueling CrossFit and OrangeTheory Fitness workouts? Yet almost nobody shares their tale of the walk they took.

But my new-school self considers a simple walk THE cornerstone for great physical fitness. Take a look at some of the most healthy, vibrant and long-lived people on the planet. They don’t go to SoulCycle or kick boxing classes. Nope. Now you may think their antiquated way of life is contrarian but it is actually anything but. In fact it’s THE way ‘we’ operated for most of our human existence on this planet. These Blue Zone communities around the world comprise people who simply ‘move’ for many hours each day. Of course I recognize you probably put in a 60 hour workweek, have children, and even more onerously, a freakin’ spouse to love and nurture. And so let me suggest to you the three underpinnings of a core, minimalist fitness program that will take you less than 60 minutes each day, will not drain you, and won’t require weight machines or free weights. And then I’ll tell you who I plagiarized this from.

Consider briskly walking for a minimum of 150 minutes per week. How about starting your work week with a brisk 30 minute walk and doing the same on Wednesday and Friday. On Saturday or Sunday, take a brisk 60 minute walk. During your treks you can listen to podcasts, crank up some Sturgill…whatever! Notice I keep repeating the word BRISK. You’ll want to walk as rapidly as you can without breaking into a jog and with no hard landings on your heels. No, you don’t have to engage in speedwalking or some ‘silly walk‘ variant.

What kind of pace am I talking about? Simply do what I do. Play an internal soundtrack in your brain of “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” Keep your posture upright, those shoulders confidently flung back and your abs nice and tight. You can certainly walk more if you’d like to. Case in point: Before taking my kennel-coughing dog out for her constitutional, I started the day with a brisk three mile walk. Although my wife won’t agree, waking up at 4 a.m. has its benefits.

In addition, you get extra credit for even more walking and for biking instead of driving to complete food market runs and other short-haul errands during your week. And mowing your own lawn. And weeding your own garden. And I think you get the point so let me stop sermonizing.

Fire your trainer. Why? Because you can get and stay plenty fit by selecting a few simple body weight exercises that strengthen and sculpt your physique. Have those old Beach Body infomercials convinced you of the need for “muscle confusion” gained through an ever more complex sequence of weight exercises? Homey don’t play that. Do you think our ancestors worried about muscle confusion? No! They simply lifted, pulled and pushed stuff. Yeah I’m sure there was plenty of bare-handed killing of wild beasts in there as well, but I digress.

My weekly regimen includes pull ups, push ups, squats with no weights and sit ups. For one of my two strengthening days I simply rotate between these exercises, i.e., 5 pull ups, 12 push ups, 20 sit ups, 12 squats — rinsing and repeating for 30 minutes. You should be moving through this sequence at a fast enough velocity to get your heart rate up. Think more about a fairly but not fully intense High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. Huffing and puffing versus gasping for air indicates you’re at the right level. I typically finish up with 30 weight assisted dips and 30 Australian push ups, both of which take no more than six minutes.

On the second strengthening day I simply complete as many pull ups, squats and push ups as I can for 10 minutes each with a bit of a break in between. I then finish up with a five minute ab workout. During the weekend I’ll quickly work in some side planks.

Once per week I concentrate on really getting it up. Oh come on! I’m talking about my heart rate. The 20 second ‘all on’ and 10 second ‘off’ nature of a four minute Tabata interval, in which you repeat this cycle eight times, is virtually unmatched for kicking one’s ass. Lately I’ve been using battle ropes for my Tabata. When my hip is more compliant I like doing burpees because afterward when I don’t have a heart attack and die I feel pretty f’ing victorious. Other Tabata variants include sprinting on a field, jumping rope, busting out on an elliptical machine…anything that involves most of your body and enables you to enter an oxygen deprived mode at a full exertion level. During a typical Tabata workout I’ll complete two intervals with some ab work in between.

This regimen adds up to 250 minutes per week. Add in some daily stretching and the full tally will be about 3.5% of a week – approximately six hours. I know you may not think you have time for this, but if the net result is exuding more energy and vitality, becoming more productive, and living a longer and higher quality life, I think it’s worth giving up some screen time and useless news ingesting.

Lest you think I came up with this novel fitness approach on my own, let’s give credit where it is due. The philosophy comes from Mark Sisson, one of the giants in the Paleo movement. Although I no longer follow a purist Paleo diet, there are many logical principles for everyone to consider from this “primal” lifestyle, including Mark’s excellent primer on exercise. Dig a little deeper on the Daily Apple site to learn about the potential pitfalls of what he calls “chronic cardio.”

Who’d have thought you can become a serious bad ass simply by walking, briskly of course?

PHOTO: The dog gives it her all during our walks. The aftermath is often not pretty.

Nine Life Lessons Learned From a Very Recent Half Marathon

Steve - Half Marathon
Is that an elbow brace on his right knee?

Last Sunday I ran a half marathon in San Jose. It was my second half marathon overall, and my first in three-and-a-half years. My original plan after running Santa Cruz in April of 2012, one week shy of my 50th birthday, was to run a few half events every year. It didn’t work out that way. In fact, due to injuries I ended up taking more than two years off from running altogether and in that time period didn’t anticipate I’d ever run again.

Most people within 10 years of my age seem happy to give up running. “It’s way too hard on your body.” “It kills your knees.” “It kills your hips.” “People in their 50s aren’t meant to run.” These are just a few of the comments I regularly hear. As for me….Booze. Chocolate. Coffee. Running. I love them all, particularly running. I simply relish the feel of hitting the pavement very early in the morning and taking in nature while music pounds through my earbuds. And I really enjoy the post-run endorphin-laced rush.

I have read many an article on how to prepare for longer running events. Here is a slightly different take: nine life lessons I learned from my most recent half marathon.

1. Set Specific Goals – I know this one is obvious, but common sense is not always common practice. I frequently encounter people who don’t set goals, or if they do, fail to establish desired time parameters for achieving those measurable goals. As for me, if we had spoken 12 weeks ago, I would have mentioned a “desire” to run a half marathon, but not a GOAL to run one. It was about eight weeks ago that the bug hit. I just HAD to run in one. Why? After experiencing left hip pain from a torn labrum for so very long, I felt like my body was in a happy place. I was running about 16 miles per week and everything seemed pretty good. The hip pain was “there,” but was tolerable. Thus I thought, “It’s now or never.”

The 2015 San Jose Rock ’N’ Roll Half Marathon was only seven weeks away when I signed up for it in August. But I latched onto Week 3 of an accelerated eight week training plan and dove in, thankfully aided by the fact that my ongoing weekly running mileage was high enough for me to do so.

2. Don’t Get Too Attached To Your Goals – Yes, this is paradoxical, but conditions change and life can throw obstacles at you. If you strictly build your self-worth around goal attainment, you are setting yourself up for a fall. I’d submit that self-worth is an inner game and should not be dependent upon achieving “goals” or obtaining any other externals. As mentioned, I took a lot more time off than anticipated after my half marathon in 2012. I had completed that run in about two hours and three minutes. My NEXT goal was to finish a marathon in two hours. I visualized this frequently. Two hours. Two hours. Just give me TWO HOURS! Why?? E-G-O! Heck, at least I’m admitting it.

As I was preparing for the marathon I completed a few weeks ago, I modified that goal to simply completing the run without injuring myself additionally. My prep runs indicated I’d finish in about two hours and 20 minutes. While this didn’t “thrill” me, I was more than happy at the prospect of simply running in and completing a half marathon, something that a year ago I never thought I’d do again.

3. Build and Live By Your Plan – Another obvious item. You’ve got to build and execute against a plan. It should be logical and battle tested. It should be aggressive but not foolhardy. Increasing one’s weekly mileage by more than 10 percent may not be foolhardy, but it is close. Think about parallels in business. Let’s say your demand generation webinars typically bring in 10,000 registrants. Setting a goal for your next webinar to generate 100,000 leads is sort of foolhardy…unless Tony Robbins is on the docket. Then you should set your sights at 200,000 leads.

4. Embrace the Daily Grind – The road between setting the goal and crossing the finish line is a very long one. If you don’t relish the repetitive and seemingly monotonous daily ritual and journey, then why do it? Yes, cold weather runs, windy runs, raining sideways runs, runs when you feel like crap — ALL of them. Similarly, if you don’t somehow “enjoy” that six weeks of hell leading up to your huge annual event, then why are you in that job of yours, since you know that every year you will endure six weeks of hell, preceded by four months of semi-hell? That’s nearly 50% of your life every year. Learn to love hell. That’s what I do. And no I’m not kidding.

5. Prepare in ‘Real World’ Conditions – “How would the Cardinals EVER win at Gillette Stadium in January? Wind chills are expected to be 20 below?” Yeah I made that up and it might not even make sense as I’m not much of a sports guy. But you can’t anticipate being prepared if you don’t complete at least some of the hard prep work in conditions that replicate the arena in which you will be competing. This was a great lesson for me. I completed most of my long training runs in pre-dawn, nice and cool San Francisco Peninsula temperatures. Even with our frequent heat wave-laden summer, It was never above 65 when I ran most of the time, and I completed my eight-to-ten mile jaunts by 6:45 a.m.

As a result, last Sunday in San Jose, as the sun beat down on me starting at about 8:45 a.m. — 45 minutes into the race, my brain went “Ruh roh!” By mile seven I was hurting. It was only through typically maniacal positive self talk that I kept moving forward.

6. Anticipate Setbacks – In the running world, expect injuries, colds, flu, dyspepsia, tripping on sidewalks (see below), etc. In the professional world, expect colleagues who don’t deliver, YOU who are hung over the morning of a big performance, getting shellacked by an executive, last minute do-overs, etc. The big question is: How do you respond? How resilient are you? How quickly do you get back up?

7. Study What You Can – This was another teachable moment for me. Many of the articles I read advised studying the running route. But in my mind, I knew San Jose was relatively flat, so why bother? Here is why: to pace yourself dammit! I thought my Apple Watch would get me through since I didn’t plan on using ear buds or a running app during the event. But I quickly learned, as I had in 2012 in Santa Cruz, that the course measurements were “different” from the GPS indications provided by my watch and iPhone. Had I simply studied the mileage for every water station on the route, I would have been fine. But as it was, I flew blind other than the occasional course markings and the elapsed time my watch provided.

8. Live In the Moment – Goals are great and anticipation is wonderful, but what about anxiety? Not so much. My nerves got the best of me in the days leading up to the half marathon. Here are two reasons why: 1) I had been running a low grade fever due to a nasty head cold and read a bunch of bologna juice on the Web about the risks or running long distances with a low grade fever; 2) In mid-August I tripped on a sidewalk during a training run and banged the hell out of my right knee. I kept running with it, even with water on the knee that developed soon thereafter. My doctor, who I frequently run into at my gym, told me I was an idiot and not so jokingly warned that my knee might “blow up” if I ran a half marathon on it. So of course I nervously anticipated my knee blowing up during the race. I figured it might lock up and then I’d have to take an UBER back to the garage where I had parked my car IN COMPLETE SHAME.

But last Sunday morning as I left my house at 6 a.m. I had simply had enough of the nerves. I was definitely running a fever. And my knee was most definitely out of sorts. But thankfully a friend had suggested I get a compression sleeve. I had quickly ordered one a few days before, so quickly in fact that I unwittingly wore an ELBOW compression sleeve on my knee and wondered why it kept falling down while I was running. But before and during the run I literally operated in the moment, breathing very deeply through my stomach, and just taking in the sights and sounds around me — no expectations, no anticipation (until the last few miles) — just living in the moment. The knee didn’t blow out, and my fever didn’t get the best of me either.

9. Savor and Enjoy Your Personal Victory — Perhaps it’s human nature but in business I often see people complete a huge “event” (sales meeting, customer presentation, quarterly business review, CEO meeting, etc.) with great success and then immediately begin nervously preparing for their next one and/or hyperactively conducting trailer_park_boys_lpost-mortems on the one just completed. Where is the recognition of a job well done? Where is the celebration? Where is the well-deserved sugary dessert? To me, life rings a bit hollow without the celebration. As for me, I’ve been celebrating all week. Here is one example. While I don’t often watch TV, this week I’ve been basking in binge watching that most low-life awesome of shows — straight from Canada — “Trailer Park Boys.”

On a more serious note I’m basking in the fact that somehow I finished on Sunday in 1:59.58 — two seconds below my aforementioned original goal of two hours that I had repetitively drilled into my brain. Yee haw!!! Coincidence? I do not think so. Boom!

There’s No Better Time Than Now To Be In Energy

BP Plant

Last week when the sky began to again fall down in the U.S. equities market, Jim Cramer spoke with me very early one morning. To be more truthful, he spoke “at” me and millions of other CNBC viewers. I was at the gym on a treadmill before sunrise warming up for an outdoor run. Cramer implored his viewers to dump their energy stocks. He said something like, “If you’re in Big Oil, you’re catching a FALLING KNIFE! Get out NOW!!” As it so happens, I don’t subscribe to cable and only watch a few minutes of Cramer each week while on that treadmill before I invariably turn off the TV and walk in silence. Therefore, with no disrespect to Jim Cramer I’m holding onto my BP stock for a very long time.

Head Fake! We’re Talking About YOUR Energy

But that is not the point of this article. Instead I want to again return to the topic of personal energy, something so many of us complain we never have enough of.

The week before last, my wife, daughter and I went to Banff for five days, The mountain landscapes were so jaw dropping I couldn’t even take them all in. The walking, the hiking, and the recreational amenities were all world class. And yet I was miserable for more than half the vacation. Starting midweek, I developed a low grade fever that alternated between 97 and 99. I was achy, weak, tired, and had a slight sore throat.

I attributed the sickness to a typical 24 hour bug and soldiered through my symptoms with Ibuprofen, copious portions of smoked salmon from the breakfast buffet at the Fairmont, and plenty of germ killing alcohol. Meanwhile, my energy level went to crap. I took long afternoon naps every day and went to sleep even earlier than my typical octogenarian pattern. Working out was nearly impossible, but yet I still did it because I’m that kind of an OCD fanatic when it comes to exercise. And I was grouchy, irritable, and just plain ‘down.’

A Powerful Metaphor for Personal Energy

Returning to the topic of personal energy in general, I have always believed in the concept espoused by author and personal development trainer Brendon Burchard, of “generating energy.” Brendon focused on this in his book, “The Charge.” In essence, he literally recommends thinking of yourself as a power plant. Power plants don’t ‘have’ energy. They generate it.

But while in Banff, I couldn’t generate any energy, and this bothered me.  In large part this is because wherever I have worked, when people have complimented me — for example about something I wrote, a presentation I delivered, a training session I gave, or if I simply helped them laugh — they have always cited my high levels of ‘energy.’ I have literally thought of energy as my secret money maker weapon.

And now I just didn’t have any. I expected to feel better when I got back home. I did not. A week ago Monday night I finally threw in the towel and went to Urgent Care. It turns out I had strep throat, which I apparently contracted from my daughter, who has been a repeat sufferer this past summer.

As I write the initial drafts of this article on Monday, August 31st, nearly two weeks after I started feeling poorly, today is the first day I have my energy back. I feel awesome. The emotional funk has lifted. I’m thinking much more clearly and positively. I’m not whining or complaining at all. Damn it feels good to be alive!

Positive Thinking Is Not Enough

What’s the lesson? You can talk all you want about the importance of being emotionally resilient, and of having a positive growth oriented mindset. I know this is where I direct so much of my attention. But if you don’t have a strong physical backbone as your foundation. and are not constantly focused on how to create and generate energy consistently, I can assure you it will be much more difficult to regulate your emotional and mental strength. And this will impede your “success” in every aspect of your life. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but if I am, then how come I constantly encounter people from all ends of the economic spectrum who seem to be chronically lethargic and exhibit very low levels of energy?

And I guess that’s my point. Energy is not just my money maker – it’s yours as well. If you still think I’m out of my mind, consider the following people: Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, Marissa Meyer, Marc Andreessen and Ginni Rommetty. Do you see any of these people speaking monosyllabically, moving lethargically…phoning it in? No you do not. Question: When is the last time you went through an entire week without thinking or stating out loud how tired you are? Hmmmm…..

It’s when something is taken away, like personal energy, that you have the opportunity to realize how valuable it is. I certainly have. So….start focusing on enhancing your physical health to “up” your emotional and mental game, contribute more to life, and yes, get more out of it as well. We can save the discussion for how to best fuel that power plant of yours for another day!

In closing, I send my deepest condolences to Wayne Dyer’s family and closest friends, given his passing last weekend. For me, Wayne exhibited the highest essence of personal energy, working consistently and tirelessly to teach us all for many decades, despite the many challenges he faced, until the very end of his life. He was a leading disciple on the topics of self reliance, spirituality, and inspiration. I look forward to continue learning from him for a very long time. Namaste Wayne!