Archive for September, 2011

Simplify Your Workout

US Marine recruits performing push-ups: in pro...

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After working out consistently for the last 15 years, I started to get bored and little burnt out. So, last year I took up long distance running and ran my first half-marathon last year at the Saratoga Palio (1:46) in Saratoga Springs, NY.

That helped with my cardio, but I lost serious interest in lifting weights. That’s a problem because one of the best ways to burn fat is through strength training. Plus 30 is around the corner and weights become more critical as guys get older.

Check this out from Body Logic MD:

Every year between the ages of 25 and 60, the physically inactive male will lose muscle mass and muscle strength at a rate of .5% and although this number may seem low, it adds up quickly. After the age of 60, male muscle loss doubles to about 1% every year. After 70, muscle mass and muscle strength declines by 2% every year. This doubling continues every ten years until death.

And from Askmen.com

Studies suggest that men lose five pounds of muscle per decade after the age of 40 due to reduced levels of human growth hormone (HGH). According to those harrowing numbers, by the age of 60, most men will have 80% less HGH in their system than when they were 20.

Here are some examples of workouts I’ve done for the last decade:

1.  Upper Body / Lower Body (alternating cardio days in between)

2.  Day 1 – Chest/tri’s, Day 2 – Shoulders/Legs, Day 3 – Bi’s / Back (repeat)

3 sets, 12 reps for each exercise.  Or heavy weight, low reps if I was trying to really bulk up. 

3.  Full body workout:  Chest, tri’s, bi’s, shoulders, back and legs all in one session.

So what does a guy who is a little burnt out from the status quo and has less time to workout do?  Strip his workout down to the basics.

For the last four weeks, I have only done 4-5 exercises during my strength training. I write them down on a sticky note with a target number for each one. So instead of saying:  “I’m going to do 3 sets of 12,” I say “I’m going to do 150 push ups today” and break it down from there. If I can’t fit it on a sticky note, I’m doing too much.

Check out my workout from Monday:

160 push ups (sets of 10)

50 pull-ups (using a machine at this point) (sets of 10)

100 bicep curls (sets of 20)

200 sit ups (crunches, planks, bicycle kicks, etc.) (sets of 25)

100 body squats (sets of 25)

I also threw in some jump rope (five sets, 30 seconds each). I essentially do non-stop circuits while occasionally stopping for water. This way I’m done in 30-40 minutes and get a great workout in. If I am busier one day, then I just lower the counts.

My numbers have increased though.  For example, a month ago I only did 100 push ups. Monday I hit 160 for the first time. My goal is to do 50 push ups in a row and 200 overall by the end of October. On my current pace, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Last week I mixed it up and did the bench press instead of push ups. I benched 40 pounds more than I did three weeks earlier. It was also fun because I hadn’t done it in a while.

This all stemmed from a workout I did with a couple of buddies recently (@jlicciardi is one) who are hardcore crossfitters. I loved the simplicity and practicality of it. We finished in about 25 minutes, but I was sweating and sucking wind big time.

So if you find yourself in a workout rut, maybe you’re doing too much. Evaluate what you can cut out and simplify your workout. There are so many options and techniques these days, sometimes it’s best to stick with the basics. Try it out and let me know how you do in the comments, or if you have other ideas please share those as well.

Now if I can just nail down my eating…

-JM

@averagegents

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In for a Penny

Last week I finished a book called In for a Penny by Peter Hargreaves. Peter discusses how he started Hargreaves Lansdown, an investment firm, in the United Kingdom with his partner Stephen Lansdown. Through the ups and downs there are some lessons that all businesspeople can benefit from.

Here are the key takeaways that warranted my highlighter:

Hargreaves Lansdown

Image via Wikipedia

  • Put the client first, the business second and yourself third.
  • If anything is too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
  • Be wary of people who are flash with their money.
  • On investing:  When the news is widely known, it is always too late to sell. Investors are prone to chasing past performance, forgetting that what matters is the future, not the past. Markets reflect what analysts think the economic situation will be in two or three years time, not what it is today.
  • The squeaky wheel gets the oil.  The more fuss you make the more attention you will get. This is important when dealing with vendors.
  • If you are sending the same letter or email to a large amount of people, divide the time you spend on the contents by the number of people you intend sending it to. You can’t spend too long getting such a letter right.
  • Secret to a good day’s work in business is to ask yourself two questions:  “Which task do I least want to do today?” and “Who do I least want to speak to today?” Then first thing in the morning get the guy you don’t want to speak to on the phone and deal with everything you have to talk to him about, however unpleasant it may be. Immediately afterwards do the ask you least want to do.
  • On writing marketing literature:  Never talk about yourself, concentrate on the reader. Don’t waste time introducing your service, telling people who you are and what you are doing.  People are just not interested. Tell them what you will do for them, how you will do it and how they will benefit.
  • When going into business:  everything is negotiable. Anyone who pays the asking price for anything, especially in your early years of business, is mad.
  • Competition is good for business. It makes you sharper.
  • Never give up attempting to improve everything you do, whether it’s marketing, research, administration, client calls, staff training and product or service quality.
  • Only recruit when the existing staff are so overworked that they will accept anyone new. Only move offices when you are already heaving at the seams. People hate change, but are much more ready to accept it when they are desperate.
  • You can always have too much of a good thing.
  • In business, never call anyone by their first name until you are invited to do so.
  • Many large companies go wrong in the following:  they start a new venture and say they’ll give it two years even though it becomes apparent after the first six months that it will never make a profit – they stick with it anyway.
  • Anyone in business should constantly be campaigning to abolish all meetings. Meetings stop people from doing their jobs (love this one).
  • If all monopolies are bad, state-run monopolies are the worst.
  • Produce advertising in house and make sure you are offering the customer something they want.
  • It is important not to give people grand sounding titles.
  • The best phone call a boss can make is a call to his own firm to see what happens.
  • If the boss won’t get his hands dirty, you can guarantee that the foot soldiers won’t either.
  • Everyone on your staff should always be ready to ask the question “why?”
  • Where there is trouble, there is always business to be done.
  • On handling complaints from customers: Never, ever tell the customer what you are going to do. Because they will inevitably deem it insufficient. The best thing to do is ask what they would like to see the establishment do to make them happy. They will usually ask for something less than you were prepared to suggest yourself.
  • Turn your business on its head once every two years.
  • Management consultants are a waste of money. They extract your people’s own ideas and put them into a long report as if the ideas were their own. In a good firm, the good ideas will already have been implemented.
  • As a boss you must never forget that your staff are the most important part of your business.
  • You can always tell when you are dealing with a great business, as they will try to negotiate you into the ground.
If you liked these and are interested in learning more, buy the book here.
-JM
Follow me on twitter:  @averagegents 
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Are You Training Yourself to Fail?

I read this really good article by Peter Bregman last week called Are You Training Yourself to Fail? on the Harvard Business Review blog. It hit home with me and probably will with you too.

In it Peter talks about how it’s rare to find the person who is naturally pre-disposed to being highly effective. Most of us start our day with a long and ambitious to do list of the important tasks we hope to accomplish. Unfortunately we get busy with email, phone calls and errands so very little gets done. We then get discouraged and do things to make us feel better for the moment like browse the internet – often about articles on being more effective.

We do the same thing over and over relying on sheer will power, which yields the same result each day.

From Peter:

Here’s the thing: the odds are against us getting our most important priorities accomplished. Our instincts most often drive us toward instant gratification. And the world around us conspires to lure us off task. Given total freedom, most of us would spend far too much time browsing websites and eating sweets. And being totally responsive to our environments would just have us running around like crazy catering to other people’s agendas.

For me, the allure of accomplishing lots of little details would often override my focus on the big things I value. Each morning I would try to change my natural tendency by exerting self-control. I would talk to myself about how, starting this morning, I would be more focused, psych myself up to have a productive day, and commit to myself that I wouldn’t do any errands until the important work was done.

It almost never worked. Certainly not reliably.

By doing this, we are teaching ourselves to fail. Failure is fine as long as we learn, but what happens if we keep doing the same things, hoping for different results but not changing our behavior?

Then we are training ourselves to fail repeatedly.

Because the more we continue to make the same mistakes, the more we ingrain the ineffective behaviors into our lives. Our failures become our rituals, our rituals become our habits, and our habits become our identity. We no longer experience an unproductive day; we become unproductive people.

The only way to break the trend, according to Peter, is to develop new rituals.  To do this we need trial and error. Each night take a look at what worked and repeat it the next day.  Look at what didn’t work and stop it.

What I found is that rather than trying to develop super-human discipline and focus, I needed to rely on a process to make it more likely that I would be focused and productive and less likely that I would be scattered and ineffective.

Rituals like these: Spending five minutes in the morning to place my most important work onto my calendar, stopping every hour to ask myself whether I’m sticking to my plan, and spending five minutes in the evening to learn from my successes and failures. Answering my emails in chunks at predetermined times during the day instead of whenever they come in. And never letting anything stay on my to do list for more than three days (after which I either do it immediately, schedule it in my calendar, or delete it).

It doesn’t take long for these rituals to become habits and for the habits to become your identity. And then, you become a productive person.

Once you develop these rituals, don’t let up. Anyone can be productive for a day, week or month. However, if you get in a groove and stop these rituals you’ll be right back to where you were when you started. Productivity is similar to losing weight. It takes awhile to become productive, but you becoming unproductive again is very quick.

Check out the full article here.  Peter also created a quiz to test how well you manage complexity.  My score was pretty bad.  How about you?  Take the quiz here and let me know how you did in the comments.

-JM

Follow us on Twitter: @averagegents 

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How Bad Do You Want It?

“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”

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The Evening News

It’s 6pm, shouldn’t you be watching the evening news?  I mean, nothing like a heavy dose of murder, rape, drug raids, unemployment, and recession talk to finish your day. It’s hard to imagine a more depressing 60 minutes on television.  Yet millions of us subject ourselves to this nonsense.

I listened to a great interview with Rabbi Schmuley “America’s Rabbi” on last month’s Success CD recently. Here is one of the takeaways:

“We’re surrounded in a culture that is just obsessed with death. Watch the evening news any given night, whether it’s NBC, CBS, ABC. Every one of those broadcasts starts with the end of the world.  ‘The Mississippi River is overflowing everyone is going to drown. Tornadoes, oil leaks, hurricanes, we’re all Gonna die! The economy is collapsing, no one owns a home anymore. I mean God Almighty, I’m sick and tired of these prophets of doom.

These aren’t the right values. The right values are these are challenges, but we believe in life and we’re a culture of life and we’re going to overcome them.”

It is critical to stay informed and abreast of  the serious challenges our country is facing, but it’s time to focus on the positive and find solutions. Instead of watching the local evening news, pickup a magazine or book and learn something constructive. Read the newspaper where you can skip those murder articles.  Stay informed, but save the hyperbole for someone else.

-JM

-JM

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Why Every Guy Should Love Soap.com

Does any guy like going to the drug store? I sure don’t. Up until recently, it felt like I was there every other day.  I would write down everything I’d need for the next few weeks and think I was good to go. A typical list would look something like this:

  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Soap
  • Rogaine (I’m not going down without a fight)
  • Garbage bags
  • Birthday card

You get the idea.  I’d walk over to Duane Reade, pick up everything I need, stand in line for 10 minutes and drop $120. Walking home I’d think “at least I won’t be back for a while.”

I’d be getting ready for bed that night only to discover I forgot floss, the reason I needed to go in the first place!

I know this has happened to you too.

Lucky for us, Soap.com came along.  With its amazing selection, reasonable prices, user-friendly layout and fast delivery; it’s hard not to believe it wasn’t started by a guy who thought:  “I can do better.”

Their customer service is also impeccable – I once sent them an email and got a response in 12 minutes. The shopping experience is similar to Zappos.com, so don’t be surprised if you receive your shipment the very next day.

Even if you forget to order something via Soap.com and need to visit the drug store, at least you saved yourself a trip.

Visit Soap.com to see what I mean. Here are a couple of discount codes to get you started.

  • 20% off household items ‘HOUSEHOLD20’
  • 15% off everything else that isn’t a household item – ‘SAVE15MORE’

Enjoy.

-JM

Follow me on Twitter @averagegents

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Book Review: Fire Season

Finished a great book last week called Fire Season by Philip Connors.

Two Sentence Breakdown:

Former Editor for the Wall St. Journal leaves Manhattan and moves to New Mexico to serve as one of the last fire lookouts in America. The book chronicles a season as lookout, which lasts from April-August.

Here is the description on Amazon.com followed by my personal thoughts.

A decade ago Philip Connors left work as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and talked his way into a job far from the streets of lower Manhattan: working as one of the last fire lookouts in America. Spending nearly half the year in a 7′ x 7′ tower, 10,000 feet above sea level in remote New Mexico, his tasks were simple: keep watch over one of the most fire-prone forests in the country and sound the alarm at the first sign of smoke.

Fire Season is Connors’s remarkable reflection on work, our place in the wild, and the charms of solitude. The landscape over which he keeps watch is rugged and roadless—it was the first region in the world to be officially placed off limits to industrial machines—and it typically gets hit by lightning more than 30,000 times per year. Connors recounts his days and nights in this forbidding land, untethered from the comforts of modern life: the eerie pleasure of being alone in his glass-walled perch with only his dog Alice for company; occasional visits from smokejumpers and long-distance hikers; the strange dance of communion and wariness with bears, elk, and other wild creatures; trips to visit the hidden graves of buffalo soldiers slain during the Apache wars of the nineteenth century; and always the majesty and might of lightning storms and untamed fire.

Written with narrative verve and startling beauty, and filled with reflections on his literary forebears who also served as lookouts—among them Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac, Norman Maclean, and Gary Snyder—Fire Season is a book to stand the test of time.

My Take

This is a great book, and most guys will enjoy it.  Fire Season actually inspired my Grass Isn’t Greener posts. Philip is in the woods with only his dog Alice as company. A classic man and best friend vs. nature story.

While I sometimes thought Philip went into too much detail about the various peaks around him, I appreciate why he did. It is very obvious that he loves what he does.

My favorite parts included his thoughts on solitude, the adjustment each year to working the lookout, his relationship with his wife (who is extremely understanding), and the transition from Manhattan to New Mexico.

I think every guy, at some point, considers leaving the rat race to go off in the forest and live a simple life. Philip Connors is a guy who did and lived to tell about it. You can buy the book at Amazon.com here.

Additional Details

Published:  April 5, 2011

Pages: 246

Hardcover:  $15.05

Kindle:  $11.99

-JM

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