The Power of Posture (And How to Improve Your Own)

Posture is immensely powerful in shaping how others perceive you in business situations, during presentations, and throughout our daily lives. I had a great time breaking down the science behind power postures and how to use them to your advantage in this post in the Crew blog.

Read the full post here.

The Best Protein Powder for You

Protein powder is one of the most common supplements in the world. Hell, people buy huge tubs of it when they start their fitness craze at the beginning of the year only for the tub to sit there and rot for the other 364 days. With protein powder being so popular, the supplement shelves are filled with practically a million brands all promising bigger and better results. In general, the supplement industry is highly unregulated and full of crap.

With the help of Brian St. Pierre, I created a cheat sheet for protein powders that was published over on DailyBurn. We detailed the seven most common protein variations and some pros and cons of each. You can read the full post here.

Something I should’ve known but just found out when writing this piece: Hemp protein is actually made out of the same plant as marijuana (albeit with none of the active ingredient, THC).

Revisiting My Morning Routine

Awhile back, I published a blog post on building a routine for the perfect morning. The piece was titled “Rock the First Hour of Your Day” and included some habits like preparing the night before, eating a solid meal, avoiding the snooze button, and prioritizing the items on your to-do list.

Since I now work from home as part of Automattic, my morning routine (and in fact, my entire day) has become a bit more lax. The fact is that it really doesn’t matter what time I wake up in the morning as I can work whenever I want throughout the day. I still practice many of the habits in the post mentioned above, but my mindset has changed quite a bit over the last few months as I’ve been working on perfecting my morning routine in light of the lax time demand. I thought it would be cool to document some of the things I’ve experimented with and where I’ve seen the best results/biggest improvements.

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5 Exercise Progressions to Build Strength

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

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

The Pros and Cons of Cheat Days

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

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

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

May 2014 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Freakonomics

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

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

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

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

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

The Obstacle is the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Intersection of Health Research and Actual Fitness Improvements

Daniel Duane writing for the NY Times had a really interesting piece concerning the application of research results to workout routines:

The problem is that everybody in the fitness industry grabs onto this basic science — plus the occasional underfunded applied study with a handful of student subjects — and then twists the results to come up with something that sounds like a science-backed recommendation for whatever they’re selling.

Regardless of whether you’re a regular weekend warrior or a fitness fanatic, you’ll likely find yourself having reached some of the same conclusions in the past. Duane raises some interesting questions centering around personal training and the fitness industry in general. This struck me as a particularly common complaint or realization:

As for personal trainers, I’ve known great ones. But the business model is akin to babysitting: There’s no percentage in teaching clients independence by showing them basic barbell lifts and telling them to add weight each time. Better to invent super-fun, high-intensity routines that entertain and bewilder clients, so they’ll never leave you. The science of muscle confusion, in other words, looks a lot like the marketing tradecraft of client confusion.

It’s akin to the old adage “Give a man a fish, feed him for the day; show a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” It’s no secret that personal trainers build their income and their livelihood off repeat business. Resigning clients are a wonderful thing as they help guarantee a certain level of income for trainers in a business that is anything but steady.

However, to Duane’s particular argument, there are a lot of contributing factors that feed in to this public mistrust of trainers. I covered a handful of them in this post on what’s wrong with the personal training industry and how it can be fixed:

  1. As an industry, we went a bit overboard with the whole functional fitness craze trying to convince every client that they needed to be standing on a BOSU ball doing single-leg squats with a dumbbell in each hand. I’m not even sure where this all started, but it caught on like wildfire throughout the personal training industry leading to everyone ditching main barbell moves in search of their “functional” counterparts.
  2. There are a ton of sleazy salespeople in the world of personal training that are fantastic at getting you to sign a contract but terrible at delivering results. They’re trained in the latest sales tactics and use proven arguments to get you to hang around when you know you should quit. These people help to ruin the industry for the great trainers that are out there delivering results at a fair price.

If you think you’re getting screwed over by your trainer, follow the list here to help make personal training work for you. Seriously, ask questions, demand explanations, and take charge of your sessions. It’s one thing to sit back and complain about how you’re getting taken advantage of in the gym arena; the much better option would be to take ownership of your training sessions and demand a good return on your investment.

Duane continues:

The human body is an adaptation machine. If you force it to do something a little harder than it has had to do recently, it will respond — afterward, while you rest — by changing enough to be able to do that new hard task more comfortably next time. This is known as the progressive overload principle. All athletic training involves manipulating that principle through small, steady increases in weight, speed, distance or whatever.

Progressive overload is the foundational principle for strength training, and one that I’d argue everyone is familiar with in some form or another even if they’ve never been inside the walls of a gym. It’s a lovely principle that fails to hit home in today’s society.

Our society is based on immediate results and big “bang for your buck” purchases. As Ryan Holiday states in The Obstacle is the Way:

We are A-to-Z thinkers, fretting about A, obsessing over Z, yet forgetting all about B through Y.

Ryan was referring more to business in the book, but it applies to literally everything today. We want short-term success, and we want it now.

Duane goes on to conclude:

So if your own exercise routine hasn’t brought the changes you’d like, and if you share my vulnerability to anything that sounds like science, remember: If you pay too much attention to stories about exercise research, you’ll stay bewildered; but if you trust the practical knowledge of established athletic cultures, and keep your eye on the progressive overload principle, you will reach a state of clarity.

If only it were that simple! First, most individuals in our culture are completely mystified with exercise in general. So much hocus pocus exists in the fitness industry today that novice gym users literally have no idea what the “right” thing is to do when they walk in the gym.

Should I try Crossfit or go for yoga?

Is it bad to squat with my knees going over my toes?

Should I use machines or free weights? Well, scratch that; the free weight area is clogged up with muscle-bound dudes wearing tank-tops. I’ll just stick to cardio.

The “keep your eye on the progressive overload principle” sounds great in theory, but it lacks any real application. For that advice to be practical, the general public would have to have some actual understanding of how to structure a workout or actually achieve their goals. Unfortunately, 80% of Americans lack that knowledge altogether.

The solution isn’t just to start ignoring mainstream health and fitness news (although that’s a solid start). The key is learning to be your own editor. No one is going to filter the truth from the lies for you. It’s up to you to take ownership over your health and fitness. If following the principles of progressive overload is enough instruction for you, have at it. For everyone else, build your base of fitness knowledge and a team of trusted friends and advisors. Do your homework on new theories that hit the market. Settle for results, nothing less.

Buy the Internet You Want to Read

Each month, I donate somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-$20 to publishers across the internet. It’s no large sum by any means. In reality, if I just refrain from eating one meal out or make an espresso at home a few afternoons during the week, that money will fully be recouped. Why dish out $20 a month to writers and bloggers that I’ve never met or really know at all outside of their Twitter handle and online content?

It’s simple; I believe in buying the internet you want to read and supporting publishers that you enjoy/gain insight from.

The publishing landscape has changed quite a bit over the last decade. There’s been a dramatic shift away from print material in favor of online content. Alongside of the shift in medium has come a growing level of content availability. It’s easier than ever now for someone to log on to a content platform like WordPress.com, Squarespace, etc and create a website. Within minutes (seconds even), they can be posting their words out there for everyone to see contributing to the ever-growing amount of content in the world.

The change in content medium and competition isn’t the only shift that has occurred. There’s been a dramatic shift in publisher revenue as well. The general idea among novice bloggers and general readers is that blogging is a relatively easy and lucrative adventure. Create a site, throw some adds up, string a few words together, and boom – an income-generating blog is born.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Before I started at Automattic, I was fortunate to work for Federated Media (now called Sovrn). In my entry role, I was a sales associate that spoke with publishers asking them to join our display advertising network. If they joined, I sent over some code for ad tags, they threw the code up on their site, and we both waited for the riches to come pouring in (My pay was somewhat related to their performance).

Often times, instead of getting elated emails (“We did it!” “Thanks for the new car!”) from bloggers, I’d get the dreaded phone call I had hoped to avoid – “How in hell did I only make $0.80 last month?” The answer was a hard one to explain and involved educating them a bit about how ads actually generate revenue.

When you visit a webpage that has ad codes embedded, your information is immediately pinged across the internet in the form of a cookie. Advertisers “bid” on the ability to show you an ad based on a variety of factors including your past browsing history and internet purchases among other things. If multiple advertisers want to show you an ad, there is a quick bidding war and the winner returns an ad that pops up on your screen as the page loads. This all happens in fractions of a second, so quickly that you don’t even notice it slowing down your page load. This is happening billions of times a day across millions of sites on the internet.

So, how much are you worth to the advertiser on average? Probably not as much as you may think.

Advertising spend is tracked in what’s referred to as CPM or cost per thousand (the actual acronym stands for cost per mille, which means thousand in Latin). The acronym isn’t important; what is important is that this number reflects what publishers can expect to earn on average for one thousand visitors. CPMs ranges depend on many factors, but average numbers are in the neighborhood of $0.60-$4.00. Remember, that price is for one thousand visitors. So, say you have five thousand hits on your site on a daily basis (a solid size for an independent blogger). You’re probably feeling pretty accomplished (as you should!), but at the end of the day, that traffic level is bringing home $10.00 (based on a $2.00 CPM with one ad on a page). Not quite the dream many publishers envision.

If you’re running the numbers in your head, you’ll understand that sites need to have considerable levels of traffic in order to depend on display advertising for their main source of income.

Most publishers have figured out that they can’t rely solely on display advertising to pay the bills. Depending on one source of income for your livelihood is a dangerous game, particularly when that source is display advertising. You’re virtually living at the mercy of powerhouses like Google, which has proved to be an ineffective method in the long haul.

So, in come other advertising methods: affiliate links, direct sponsorships, video pre-roll ads (the kind that tries to get you to buy something before a YouTube video plays), rising star units (the kind that drops down at the top of a website), skins (a background image that sites behind your favorite site) to name a few. In short, advertisers are trying new and innovative ways to get advertisements in front of your face.

You can’t blame them.

This puts publishers in a bit of a bind. Regardless of how much you cut down on overhead, you have to keep the lights on at night and food on the table. The drive for higher revenue means publishers most resort to one of a few options:

  1. Generate higher levels of traffic to drive more ad revenue
  2. More ad spaces on their site (Average CPM * # of ad units = ad revenue)
  3. More intrusive ads on their page (forced ads like video pre-roll pay more than display ads)

None of those options improve the user experience.

Many publishers have now started offering memberships and accepting donations from their readers in an attempt to keep the lights on while also not lowering their publishing standards or covering up their site with unnecessary ads. It’s easy to sit back and shake your head while these publishers have their hand out looking for supplementary income. However, it puts part of the responsibility for improving the internet in the hands of the reader, and that’s a magical thing.

Every time you visit a site, read an article, or share a link, you’re casting a vote. You’re saying, in effect, that you want more of this type of content. If you spend the majority of your day perusing YouTube channels like Dom Mazzetti, you’re telling Dom that you want him to make more videos and produce more content.

Over time, these individual votes help shape the content of the internet.

This isn’t some impassioned plea asking you not to visit Buzzfeed or fill your browser history with meme sites. Instead, it’s meant to point out the critical role that readers play in shaping the internet. It’s getting harder and harder for large publications and independent publishers alike to stay afloat and continue kicking out awesome content.

If you’re a big fan of a certain site or a certain publisher, consider kicking them a few bucks each month or staying subscribed to their magazine. It’s likely not going to affect your situation very much, but it may have a profound effect on them.

You have a vote in shaping the internet.  Cast it wisely.