Memorize Any List In Order Forever In Under 30 Seconds

Tallin, Estonia by Claudio Ar

Your Memory Palace doesn't have to have such moody lighting - unless you're a supervillain.

I used to have an atrocious memory.

If I didn’t take a list when going shopping, I would forget to buy things I needed. If you told me your name, you could expect to tell me again the next several times we met. If it weren’t for automated reminders no one I know would ever get a birthday card. Even phone numbers weren’t safe in my cerebral sieve.

Thankfully I was able to fix all that with a technique that’s easy to learn, incredibly effective, and can be used in the blink of an eye to not only memorize any sequence of facts but to memorize them in proper order – the Memory Palace.

The Memory Palace, also called the Method of Loci isn’t a new technique. It has a track record going back to at least the 6th century B.C. and has been used by eight-time world memory champion Dominic O’Brien to memorize 54 decks of cards in order (2,808 cards if you’re trying to do the math) after seeing each card only once. Now I don’t expect you’ll be needing to pull off any feats like that anytime soon, unless you’re trying to show off or win a few drinks from friends, but it comes in handy for a million other things too – shopping lists, language learning, studying for exams and anything else where you need to memorize a sequence of facts quickly and permanently.

So What Is a Memory Palace?

The Memory Palace technique works by drawing on the power of associative memories and the fact that people are very good at remembering places they know very well. A Memory Palace is any place that you know extremely well, your home for instance, that you can vividly imagine and attach items to in your imagination in order to be remembered.

Essentially, you visualize you walking through your Memory Palace and ‘see’ all the things you need to remember in sequence added to the memory. The strong emotional ties to your Memory Palace help hold the data in your head.

How Do I Use the Memory Palace Technique?

1. Pick Your Palace

Technically your palace can be anywhere that you can visualize. That being said, there are a few tips that will make it a little easier to use. First off, the more vividly you can visualize the location, the stronger the association will be. It’s fine to use an imaginary place, but only if you can really visualize it.

Secondly, the bigger the location, the more you can memorize. That doesn’t mean you have to pick some enormous place to start out with, in fact it’s probably better you start out small, but as you get better at it you can start graduating to larger and larger locations. You’ll be mapping out a path through your Memory Palace soon and the more stops you can have in it the more hooks you’ll have to hang data on.

Using myself as an example, I’ve chosen our house. It’s small enough to remember easily, but large enough to accommodate lots of stops. Best of all, I see it everyday so I can visualize it perfectly with almost no effort.

2. Pick a Path

Step two is to choose a familiar path through your already familiar location. If you’re using a real location, and you should be if it’s your first time doing this, pick a path you regularly take in real life.

If you chose your school, then use the path you take from class to class everyday. If you use your work, use the path you take from the front door to your desk, or wherever you have to go each day. Much like the location itself, the more familiar the path the more effective the technique. To start with this path doesn’t have to have a lot of stops, but as you work up to memorizing longer lists you’ll need to extend the path as necessary.

Having chosen our home as my location, I’m going to make my path through it similar to the one I take coming home. I come in through the garage, walk through the living room and then the kitchen on my way to the stairs. Before I go upstairs I take my shoes off and toss them in the closet, then go up to our home office. I could have chosen something more complicated, but that’s one that I’ve probably actually walked hundreds of times by now and it’s easy to remember.

3. Take a Practice Walk

This step isn’t as important the more you use the technique, but starting out it’s crucial. You need to visualize yourself walking through your Memory Palace along the route you just defined. This visualization needs to be as vivid and sensory as possible.

Don’t just think through it as quick as you can, stop in each area of the path and try to think about every little thing you see, what you smell, what you hear, you can even reach out in your mind and touch things. As you’re going through you need to also pick out as many little identifying items or landmarks on your path. You’ll need those as anchors for installing memory hooks in the next step.

I have my location and my path, so now I run through a practice visualization. Our old garage door grumbles and shudders as it goes up. Caroline’s Camaro is in there, shiny after just being washed. I run my hand over it and feel how smooth and cool it is. I smell the unmistakable scent of fresh cut grass as I walk by the mower, stained green from recent use. I open the door and step up into our house. It’s cool and dark in the hallway from the garage. I move the barrier that keeps the dog from getting back there and head into the living room. I can smell food cooking in the kitchen. As I walk by the pool table I feel the felt and the tiny little tear on the end by the door.

I’ll stop there, but you get the idea. I would go on like that until I got to the office. Remember to make it vivid.

4. Install Your Memory Hooks

The next step in preparing your palace is to place your memory hooks. I’ve written about memory hooks before if you aren’t familiar with them. The idea is to take your list of items you have to remember and hook each item into a place along your path through the Memory Palace.

Each hook should not only be as vivid as everything else you’ve imagined, but it should also be weird or ridiculous. Things that are strange are a lot easier to remember than things that aren’t. Don’t just picture whatever you have to remember lying there, make it interesting.

So let’s say for our example I had a shopping list to memorize. We’ll say that list is bacon, avocados, chicken, eggs, spinach, bell peppers, carrots, and onions.

I open our garage like normal but it doesn’t complain like normal. All the moving parts have been oiled up with bacon grease, and there’s bacon wound around the springs. Even the chain has been replaced by a knotted rope of bacon. I touch the car like before and pass the mower. This time, I don’t smell grass, I smell guacamole. I swipe a finger over all the green coating the mower and taste it. Avocados! When I open the door to the house the cool, dark hallways has become the back of the dairy section at the supermarket and a giant chicken is stocking cartons of eggs…

Ok, you get the point. I would go through that whole list making some kind of weird incident for each item making it as sensory of a visualization as possible.

5. Use It

Once you’ve made all your associations and memory hooks, you’re ready to use your Memory Palace to recall that info whenever you need it. Once you get to the store, walk back through your path in your head and experience all those crazy things again, (the bacon door, avocados on the mower, etc.) and you’ve got your list.

The best part is because of how quick our brains work you can construct and imagine a pretty long sequence of events in a fraction of the time it would take for a person to physically do all of that. That means that you can access your list quickly.

Additional Tips & Tricks

That’s the basic way of using the Memory Palace, but there are lots of little ways to play around with the technique. If you need to remember multiple long lists simultaneously, you can set up several different locations or even multiple paths through the same location.

You can also embed other memory techniques within your Memory Palace. So if you needed to remember the colors of the rainbow in a list with other things you could see the grave of ROY G. BIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) in your path with a rainbow etched into it.

Similar techniques can be used to encode lots of information into one hook. If I needed to remember to get three packs of bacon and two pounds of avocados in my previous example, I could add a giant ‘three’ written in bacon on the garage door and had two avocado smeared lawnmowers stacked on top of a giant scale. You can fit a surprising amount of information into each hook as long as your imagination and visualization skills are strong enough.

Have you got any other creative tips or tricks for using Memory Palaces? Have you tried this technique out and had success or problems with it? Share it with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Claudio Mufarrege

Getting Better Sleep

Sleep-Like-A-Baby-By-Peasap

I can't guarantee you'll sleep like a baby, but you will get closer to it.

What is often undervalued, desired by all and depressingly lacking in abundance? It’s sleep! Everyone needs it and everyone wants more of it, but sometimes there’s something in the way between you and a good night’s rest. Sometimes it’s an early morning flight, burning the midnight oil working on a project or leftover tension and stress from the day. Life has a way of getting between you and your much needed sleep.

Yes, you need it. Sleep is absolutely essential for basic physiological functions and then some. Sleep is necessary for musculoskeletal growth and repair, neurological and cognitive performance, immune system function and cellular repair. Getting enough sleep means enhanced memory performance, athletic performance, recovery from workouts, weight loss, energy, creativity and immunity along with lowered blood pressure, reduced stress levels and reduced inflammation.

Lack of sleep can cause several problems in the short term, and really ugly problems long term: from impaired cognitive function (slower reaction times, poor memory, lack of alertness) to higher blood pressure and it also puts you at greater risk for obesity and diabetes. A lack of sleep can even shrink your brain.

Unfortunately, sleep doesn’t come easily to all of us. I’ve always had a hard time getting to sleep, starting when I was in college letting my glowing computer hum all night, not being able to fall asleep despite hopping into bed at a reasonable time and cursing the alarm for having to wake up much too soon. Barring a sleep-related disorder, there are some things you can do to help you get to sleep easier and have a higher quality of sleep too. I’ve put together a brief list, most of which I have personally experimented with, of easy things everyone can do to get better sleep.

Fix Lighting Issues

This is probably the biggest and most common issue for everyone. We are constantly surrounded by unnatural light that disrupts sleeping patterns and ruins the quality of our sleep. Interestingly enough, studies suggest that blue light wakes us up, while red/rose light helps us get to sleep.

So, remove all sources of blue light – turn off televisions and computers and replace any blue lights in your bedroom with dimmer, rose-tinted lights. You can also cover windows and cover or turn clocks around to face the wall. In fact, I’ve had great success with just completely blacking out my room. Turn off or cover all sources of light in your room and try to avoid light for at least an hour before bed. The darkness/rose light helps your brain produce melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms.

Establish A Routine

Set a strict bedtime to ensure that you can get 7-9 hours of sleep. Depending on your current habits, this may take a while to implement and experimentation to prefect, but in the end is the only way to guarantee getting enough sleep. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time before bed to unwind and mentally prepare to sleep.

Relieve Stress

Have you ever laid down at night tired but couldn’t get to sleep because your mind was still reeling from the day and thinking about tomorrow? Stress hurts your ability to sleep, which just makes you more stressed, creating a vicious cycle. You can break it by setting time aside each day to work it out.

How best to relieve stress is going to vary from person to person and situation, but the best things that have worked for me are exercise, cutting off technology 1-2 hours pre-bed, pre-bed stretching, writing, and reading. I don’t always do all of these things, but I do most of them each day.

Disconnecting and writing were incredibly helpful for me to deal with worry and anxiety. Do you really need to read your email right before bed? You’ll risk just adding to the stress and whatever it is, it can wait for tomorrow. Writing whatever was in my head – from to-do lists to random wants to plot lines for books – also helped me to organize my thoughts and clear my mind so that by the time I hit the pillow I was completely empty.

Fix Your Diet

Unsurprisingly, if your diet is bad and your hormones are off you’ll have issues getting to sleep. Make sure you’re eating healthy, and not eating too much right before bed. If you need to eat before bed, try tossing back some nuts as they contain magnesium and tryptophan – both of which will help you get to sleep.

Avoid sweets and particularly chocolate before bed – as they can disrupt your system and chocolate contains caffeine. Speaking of which…

No Afternoon Caffeine

I suppose this goes along with diet, but I felt it important enough to get it its own bullet point. While some experimentation is in order to find your perfect times, I’ve found that having any coffee after around 3:00 p.m. effects my ability to get to sleep.

Avoid Alcohol Right Before Bed

It may be fun and relaxing and even put you to sleep faster, but alcohol before bed is a bad idea. It will ruin the quality of your sleep and you’ll probably be woken up overnight to use the bathroom. If you want to drink go ahead, but be responsible and don’t drink too much, and make sure you drink early enough to have some recovery time to get it out of your system before bed. Waking up with a hangover is no fun either.

Embrace the Siesta

There’s no such thing as too cool to nap. A good power nap midday not only will give you more energy and alertness though the rest of the day, but it shouldn’t affect your nighttime habits negatively. Naps improve productivity and reduce stress and risk of heart disease, so go ahead and indulge in a good 10-40 minute nap.

When I’ve been running low on sleep, I’ve found a good coffee nap does wonders to help me get through the day. What’s a coffee nap? Simple: drink some espresso or coffee relatively quickly and then go nap immediately after – before it has time to kick in. I set a timer on my phone so that it will vibrate after 15 to 20 minutes, then hang onto it and doze off. The vibrations are enough to wake me while not being annoying or jolting me awake.

What Helps You?

This is by no means an extensive list, however it does hit some of the major items that often need improvement. What other things have you done that have helped you get to sleep? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Peasap

An Introduction To Kettlebells

My Kettlebell by Mr. Vincent Freeman

Kettlebells have been getting more and more popular lately, and with good reason. They’re compact, fun, and offer a full body strength and endurance workout comparable to what you can get from an Olympic weight set and power rack without as big of an investment.

So, What’s a Kettlebell?

Likely you’ve seen them or heard of them – they look like cannonballs with handles, and have been popularized by Russian trainer and martial artist, Pavel Tsatsouline. Kettlebells are generally used to perform ballistic movements that train not only strength, but also flexibility and the cardiovascular system. The variety of workouts utilizing kettlebells offers total-body strength. From your grip to your legs you’ll feel worked all over from just a few minutes of working with them. Because of their handle and unusual shape, they have some special properties – like momentum. Swinging a kettlebell requires focus and all your primary and stabilizer muscles.

Being solid metal they aren’t cheap. If you can’t afford kettlebells, can’t justify the cost, or are like me and have a complex against having a fixed-weight piece of equipment, there are alternatives. There are several adjustable-weight kettlebells, many that even allow you to use your own plates. If you’re feeling a little DIY you can make your own with PVC, a basketball and some sand or concrete, or you can make a t-handle or d-handle. Many of the movements can be mimicked with a dumbbell, too. However, certain kettlebell movements just can’t be done without a proper, comfortable handle.

Benefits of Using Kettlebells

Efficient Exercise

Kettlebells demand your full attention and engage your entire body, offering a full body workout that can be done relatively quickly.

Functional Strength

The movements in kettlebell exercises work multiple muscle groups, increase endurance and power creating functional strength. Sure, kettlebells could be used to do curls, but who would want to?

Versatility & Portability

Want to workout on the road? At work? Want to go for a hike but want some added pack weight? Try a kettlebell. Being so dense they can pack a lot of weight despite being small. Being so little they can turn pretty much any movement into a workout.

Fat Loss

Kettlebell workouts are hard, there’s no way around that. The difficulty, intensity and engagement of the entire body turns your body into an efficient, strong, fat burning machine.

Kettlebell Exercises

This list is by no means a complete list of things you can do with a kettlebell, but these are a few of my favorites. Correct form is essential, so be sure to read the descriptions and watch the videos before you try them (or, ideally, have someone who knows their way around a kettlebell show you.)

The Two-Arm Swing

Popularized by Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Body, the swing is a basic, but excellent workout. You can do it with one hand or two and it works everything from your shoulders to your thighs. You begin with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed slightly out, the weight in between your feet or slightly behind them. Squatting down, you grab the kettlebell and quickly stand up while pushing your hips forward. The kettlebell will swing up – the movement driven primarily by your core and lower body with a bit of help from your shoulders. When you reach the top of the movement, pull the kettlebell down to the start position.

Turkish Get-Up

Deceptively challenging, the Turkish Get-Up is one of the most fun and difficult movements. To begin lay on your back while holding the kettlebell straight up in the air with one hand. The kettlebell should be resting against your forearm and your elbow should be kept locked during the entire motion. Make sure you keep your eyes up on the kettlebell. Carefully prop yourself up on your free hand and bring your opposite (side with kettlebell in hand) knee up. Put your free-side’s knee on the ground, and your kettlebell-side’s foot on the ground bringing yourself into somewhat of a kneeling lunge position, and finish by standing up – kettlebell arm still up in the air.

Clean and Press

Begin by picking up the kettlebell like you are doing to do a swing – squat down with it between your feet and grab it one handed then drive it upward with your hips and legs. When you lift the kettlebell, keep your elbow in so the kettlebell will wind up at your shoulder. As the kettlebell reaches the shoulder dip down, slightly bending your knees to get your elbow underneath the kettlebell and then press it up. Lower the kettlebell back down to the start position.

Snatch

You will be doing a very similar movement to the Clean & Press except with slight variations and much faster – so please be cautious! The snatch also begins the same as the kettlebell swing – as the kettlebell is coming up bend your elbows a little. Once the kettlebell reaches chest height you will reverse pull the kettlebell using primarily your shoulders and lats. The kettlebell will flip over your hand to rest on the top of your wrist / forearm. Once the kettlebell is higher than your head you push through to extend your arm fully in a strong upward punching motion. This movement is particularly technical so be extra careful doing this one.

Conclusion

These are just a handful of exercises you can do with kettlebells, really the options are almost limitless. Any exercise that can be done with a dumbbell can also be done with kettlebells, so feel free to experiment with more familiar exercises like the bench press or squat. If you’re not ready to invest in buying your own kettlebells or making your own DIY version, most big box gyms are beginning to offer them for use or at least offering kettlebell classes. Do you have any other kettlebell training advice to offer? Share it with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Mr. Vincent Freeman

10 Ways to Find Native Listening Material

I am on your side by Kevin_Morris

Coffee and book not required.

Having access to lots and lots and lots of native spoken material for listening comprehension is extremely important. Unfortunately, not everyone is surrounded by speakers of their target language. If you’re one of the lucky people who can travel to a country where their target language is the spoken, then this article is not for you. You have no shortage of access to native listening material.

If, on the other hand, you’re stuck in a country that doesn’t speak your target language – listen up. You can find native speaker listening material to practice with, and it doesn’t require plane tickets.

  1. Podcasts – With a quick search you can find podcasts in almost any language. You don’t have to limit yourself to instructional or lesson focused podcasts either (though there are certainly tons of them). It can help more to find podcasts for native speakers of your target language about a topic you’re interested in.
  2. YouTube – Just like with podcasts a quick search in your target language can open up a whole world of videos. You can search for topics you’re interested in, instructional videos, movie reviews or anything else. If you find a video you particularly like or with particularly useful conversation in it then you can download the video off of YouTube and then rip the audio to an .mp3 with AoA Audio Extractor. Then you can listen to it wherever you want.
  3. Movies – Movie services like Netflix are constantly adding more and more foreign movies, most of them subtitled and not dubbed. You can also buy a lot of U.S. movies re-dubbed in other languages off of Amazon. If both of those fail you there are tons and tons of streaming sites you can find that feature movies and shows from various countries or, if you’re feeling a touch unscrupulous, there are plenty of torrent sites out there featuring foreign media. You can also use the Audio Extractor linked to above to pull the audio off these and make the conversations into .mp3 files to listen to while you do other things.
  4. RhinoSpikeRhinospike.com is a service where you can have a native speaker record text in your target language and post the .mp3 file for free. In return you can record audio files for people learning your native language. There are a lot of great ways to make using Rhinospike more efficient, from writing conversations to have recorded to downloading off of the archive, but it’s useful enough just using it as intended to get free, customized, native-speaker produced audio to practice with.

  5. Music – Listening and singing along to music in your target language may not be the best way to improve conversational listening comprehension, but it is a great way to work on pronunciation and mimicking native accents. It can also go a long way toward easing you into thinking in your target language as you find more and more songs from your target language endlessly looping in your head. With Pandora and Spotify you have no excuse for not finding some music you like in your target language.
  6. Audio Books – Audio books may require a little more hunting depending on what target language you’ve chosen, but the benefits are endless. You get hours of material written by a native and read by a native on a range of topics and including conversations. Plus, like the rest of these you can put them on your .mp3 player of choice and listen to them while you’re doing other things. Win.
  7. News – Whether or not you have a TV service that gives you access to international news stations, most post videos online for free. A quick search in your target language for the word ‘news’ and ‘video’ should turn up tons of results. Newscasters are often trained to speak quickly but clearly in whatever accent is that country’s most neutral, so they make a good example to try and match.
  8. TV Shows – Okay, maybe this should be lumped in with movies, but it’s easy to find tons of TV shows to watch in your target language. Barring that you can usually find the more popular U.S. TV shows dubbed into your target language. Re-watching every episode of Lost in your target language is an excellent, if time consuming, way to get some practice.
  9. Skype – As you practice more and more on things like Lang-8 or start poking around on CouchSurfing or social networks in your target language, you’ll begin to make friends who speak the language you want to be speaking. This is easily the best thing ever for learning a new language. That’s not to say you should view these people as nothing more than tools for conversation practice, you should be aiming for real friendships, but usually people are more than happy to have a quick chat on Skype. Make some time everyday, even if it’s just five minutes, to have a quick video chat with someone on Skype and you’ll progress faster than you know it.
  10. ForvoForvo.com is similar to RhinoSpike, except with a focus specifically on the pronunciation of single words or phrases. While this means you can’t get whole conversations recorded like you can on RhinoSpike, it does offer an excellent opportunity to get those really tricky words or sounds that you always have trouble with smoothed out and perfected. Best of all, you can focus on all the particularly difficult phonemes or make playlists of similar sounds to build your own target language tongue twisters.

These are just the first ten options for finding native audio that came to mind, there are tons more out there. If you have any you’ve particularly liked using in the past, share them with us in the comments! We’re always looking for more suggestions.

Photo Credit: Kevin Morris

Workouts for Wimps: Your First Bodyweight Circuit

Extremsport by Mueritz

Babies do push-ups, planks and squats all day long. You can too.

Circuit training is one of the most efficient ways to combine strength building, endurance building and fat burning all in one neat little time saving package. In addition to high intensity interval training, circuit training is perfect for people who want to get as good of a workout as they can in as short a time as possible. Making them bodyweight circuits has the added benefit of not requiring any expensive equipment or a gym membership. If you’re really out of shape but don’t have the cash for a gym membership or hours to waste on a treadmill then bodyweight circuits are for you.

What Is Circuit Training?

At its most basic circuit training is a workout routine that places the whole sequence of workouts one after the other and then moves the rest periods from between sets and puts them in between each exercise circuit. So instead of doing for example five sets of push-ups with rest periods between sets followed by five sets of squats with rest periods between each one and so on, you would do one set of push-ups followed immediately by one set of squats followed by the next exercise with no rest between.

This not only speeds up the workout meaning you can get more done in less time, it also adds an intensity to it similar to high intensity interval training that fires up your CNS. That translates not only to more strength but also a higher VO2 max, better endurance and a much more favorable hormonal response leaving you building more muscle and burning more calories for a longer time after the workout.

The Beginner’s Bodyweight Circuit

This circuit is for absolute beginners. People who have a decent level of fitness should go for a slightly harder circuit or modify these exercises to be appropriately challenging.

  • 10 Push-ups
  • 20 Bodyweight squats
  • 10 Inverted bodyweight rows
  • 30 Second plank
  • Rest for 2 minutes

Complete that circuit five full times as quickly as possible and with no rest between exercises except the two minutes at the end of each cycle and you’re done. Do this at least two times a week with at least one full recovery day in-between each circuit day and you’ll start seeing improvement in no time.

Push-ups – Do whatever push-up you need to to be able to complete all ten, but don’t make it too easy. If you’ve never done a single standard push-up find an easier push-up variation here.

Bodyweight squats – Keep your back straight and toes pointed forward and bend at the knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground, just like sitting back into a chair. It’s ok to hold onto something sturdy if you need a little help balancing. If you need a little more assistance find a low chair or a bottom step – sit down on it and then stand back up without using your arms and count that as one rep.

Inverted bodyweight rows – This exercise sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. There are a few ways to do them though. The easiest is to lay underneath a sturdy table looking up. Grab the edge of the table and pull your chin up to it while leaving your heels touching the ground. Low tree limbs work as well, as long as you have something you can pull your chin to while leaving your heels on the ground. The farther you are from standing straight up the harder it becomes.

Planks – To do a plank lay on the floor face down and place your forearms on the ground so your arms are touching the floor from your fingertips to your elbows. Then lift yourself up on your toes and straighten your back so your forearms and toes are holding the rest of you up and your belly is no longer resting on the ground. Do your best to keep a straight line from the back of your head to your heels the entire time and hold this position for the time required.

That’s it! If you need a little extra motivation challenge your friends to a race through the whole circuit or try and beat your previous time every time you workout. It doesn’t look like much on paper but you’ll find that circuit to be a good challenge and if you want to lose weight and build some muscle you’ll start seeing results before you know it.

Have any experience with circuit training or some suggestions for ways to make it better? Just have some questions about this particular circuit? Share them with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Mueritz

Workouts for Wimps: Beginning High Intensity Interval Training

The Runner by Hamed Saber

You used to know how to run.

Note: This article is intended as a starter for people who have never worked out a day in their life or are extremely out of shape. If you’re already in decent shape but looking to take things to the next level, you will probably want to head over to a more advanced article on high intensity interval training.

If your goal is to lose weight, increase endurance or just to run a little faster and you want to reach that goal with the minimum amount of total work time invested – high intensity interval training (or HIIT) is for you. Besides a properly structured strength training routine there are no other forms of exercise that give so much benefit in such an efficient package. With only 5 to 15 minutes per week you can get HIIT’s full benefit. Everyone can spare 15 minutes a week to be healthier.

So What Is High Intensity Interval Training?

Simply put – training in an interval pattern at a very high intensity. Ok, moving on…

Alright, I know, you want more than that. High intensity interval training is a system of training that uses alternating periods of work and rest (intervals) to allow the person doing them to perform maximal or near maximal effort for a longer total time than without rest periods.

Why Is HIIT So Great?

There are a handful of reasons that high intensity interval training is a better option than long, slow drawn out cardio like jogging. Here are just a few:

  • HIIT is efficient – Due to the intensity of the exercise HIIT puts a lot of stress on your respiratory, cardiovascular and central nervous systems in a very short amount of time. This may sound bad, but this stress is good in small doses. Just like with weight lifting that’s how you get stronger. That intensity means you can get more benefit from 5 minutes of HIIT than you can from an hour of running.
  • HIIT increases your metabolism – That stress on your CNS I just mentioned also means that unlike with most exercises your body stays geared up long after you’ve finished actually exercising. That means that three hours later when you’re sitting around playing Skyrim or watching TV your metabolism is still roaring as if you were active.
  • HIIT releases growth hormones – Yet another benefit of the stress put on your system is that high intensity interval training triggers the release of Human Growth Hormone, Testosterone and Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 just like strength training does. This lovely cocktail of hormones means quicker fat loss, more rapid muscle growth and improved insulin sensitivity. All good things.
  • HIIT improves aerobic and anaerobic systems – High intensity interval training improves performance in anaerobic areas (intensity / power output) and aerobic areas (endurance). Unlike a five mile run which only improves aerobic performance (and even then questionably) HIIT gives you a two-for-one deal. On top of that, high intensity interval training improves your VO2 Max, a measure of how efficiently your body processes oxygen. That means you can do things harder for longer.

How Do I Start HIIT?

The ‘high intensity’ part of high intensity interval training is not there sarcastically – HIIT is intense. This is the main reason it’s so beneficial but it’s also the reason it can be dangerous. Now this HIIT routine is already assuming you are completely out of shape or just starting exercising but even so it will put a lot of stress on your heart.

If you are at a point where you’re at elevated risk of having a heart attack than take it slow and talk to your doctor before you really get going. Properly applied HIIT will get you and your heart in the best shape of your life, but overdoing it can put you in the emergency room or worse. Be careful and use your head.

With that out of the way, here’s what you do:

5 minute warm up. This will depend on your overall fitness level, a very brisk walk or some easy jumping jacks should do the trick. The idea here isn’t to get out of breath, or even tired really, but to prepare your system for the shock it’s about to get.

30 seconds of full exertion. Here’s where you get going. This will also depend on your overall fitness level. The idea is to do something as hard and fast as you can manage. For some that might mean a furious set of jumping jacks or a quick stair climb for others it might be a full-on sprint. Running up a steep hill as fast as you can for 30 seconds is a good place to start if you’re not sure where your limit is, or 30 seconds of sprinting on flat ground. By the end of 30 seconds if you’re not huffing and puffing you need something harder.

2 minutes of active rest. As soon as your 30 seconds are up switch to active rest. Now, when I say active rest I don’t mean just standing there – walk around in circles, stroll back down the hill or casually work your way to the bottom of the stairs. Savor it, because you’ll find these 2 minute periods go way too quickly.

Repeat 7 more times. As soon as your 2 minutes are up immediately start into another 30 seconds of full exertion, followed by another 2 minutes of rest, followed by another 30 seconds of exertion and so on until you’ve done a total of 8 sets of 30 seconds. This sounds easy. It’s not. If you absolutely cannot make the full 8 sets then remember where you quit and do one more set each workout until you hit 8 total.

5 minute cool down. This is as important as the warm up. After you’re finished with all your sets take 5 minutes more to gently cool down. Take an even more casual 5 minute walk, do some light stretching and let your breath slowly return.

That’s it! To begin with, only do one session of high intensity interval training per week. If you’re doing strength training (which I highly suggest you do) you should either do your HIIT on a day you don’t have a strength workout or, if you must do them on the same day, do it after your strength training.

Eventually, you can move up to two or three sessions per week and shorter rest periods, but for now it’s best not to overdo it. HIIT really does put a lot of stress on your CNS and it’s easy to overtrain if you don’t give yourself enough time to rest in-between sessions.

One more tip, never do HIIT shortly after having eaten. Trust me.

Have any other advice to add for people just getting started with high intensity interval training? Leave them in the comments! It’s always helpful to learn from other people’s experiences.

Photo Credit: Hamed Saber

The One Reason People Fail at Developing Good Habits and How to Avoid It

As complicated as... by Aunullah

Developing good habits is easy... if you can avoid making it complicated.

Developing a new habit is difficult.

Okay, so that’s not entirely true. Let me rephrase that a bit. Developing a good habit is difficult.

It’s easy to develop bad habits. We do it all the time. People get in the habit of hitting the snooze on their alarm clock and curling back into oblivion. They get in the habit of spending their evenings mesmerized by a flickering television while mindlessly cramming snacks into their faces. They don’t usually get in the habit of eating healthy, working out, or spending a little time everyday learning something new.

Why is that? Let’s take a look.

Why People Fail

Developing good habits is fundamentally different from developing bad habits. The reason developing bad habits is so easy is because it’s almost always something part of us wants to do deep down. Not in the way that we want a goal, but in the way that we naturally always want to take the path of least resistance.

The same just isn’t true of good habits. Good habits are almost always something that we want to do because we know it’s good for us, but deep down don’t want to do because it involves work, difficulty, sacrifice or a break in our usual routine. No matter how much you gear yourself up and tell yourself that you really want to go workout first thing in the morning, by the time your feet hit the floor in the morning all you’re going to remember is your driving need for coffee.

Now, there are ways to get around our limited supply of willpower and make the habit stick. The thing is, just about everyone I’ve talked to who have tried it and failed had one single thing in common. They made the same mistake I did at first – too much enthusiasm.

Rewind a little bit to when I was first trying to take control of my life and start taking things in the direction I wanted them to go. Caroline and I decided that we were going to make some serious changes. We wanted to learn instruments, we wanted to learn languages, we wanted to write lots of articles, we wanted to practice our martial arts, we wanted to get in shape, we wanted to eat right, we wanted start businesses… oh, yeah, and we were still in college.

I remember one of the schedules we concocted in our fervor had every single minute of the day blocked out with a different prescribed activity. Literally zero free time.

I think it goes without saying that we failed, and we failed hard.

I don’t think we managed to stick to our ridiculous schedules for longer than one full week. Honestly, I’m impressed with myself for even completing one week.

There was just way, way too much stuff to handle all at once. There was no way we were ever going to manage that schedule long enough for any of those things to develop into habits because it was just too overwhelming. It seems really obvious to me know, and yet I still constantly see people making the same mistake I made without ever realizing it.

Developing a good habit is difficult. It just doesn’t make sense to try to developing 10 good habits all at once, but people still do it all the time! Then they get frustrated because they failed and wind up giving up until enough fire builds in them again and they make another futile attempt to will themselves into starting 10 new habits at once. It just doesn’t work.

How to Succeed

We may have failed back then at developing all those habits, but since then we’ve managed to pick up a lot of those habits successfully. What was the difference? Taking our time.

Rather than try to force ourselves to do everything all at once, we took it slowly. Ridiculous schedules were thrown out of the window – instead one item at a time got picked to be slowly developed into a habit. We would move onto the next item only after the first had been pretty well entrenched as a new habit.

It was very, very slow; but it worked. We started with working out. A time was chosen three times per week and we focused all the energy we’d formerly spread around all our other activities into just being absolutely sure that we managed to work out three times a week. It felt pretty good to make it a complete week without missing a single workout. It felt awesome to make it three weeks without missing one. By the end of two months of never missing a workout, we were elated.

By that point it had become automatic – exactly what we were going for. The key is to remember to not get too crazy with it. I know it’s hard, I really do. If you’re anything like me, when you decide you really want to do something you go all out. Fight the urge to spread yourself too thin and focus all that energy onto one single task.

Promise yourself that you are not going to worry about any of the other things, and all you want to do is stick to this one thing. To own it. Tell yourself that you are going to absolutely dominate this one thing. Then, and this is actually a pretty important part, actually go out and do it.

The best part is, you don’t even have to think of it as focusing on developing a new habit. Just focus on doing it when you said you would, on being there, and after a little while you’ll find you don’t have to force yourself. You’ll realize you don’t have to think about it anymore, that you just feel like doing it – you’ll realize you’ve developed a new habit.

What do you think? Ever had success trying to develop a bunch of new habits at once? Have something else you think should be added? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credit: Aunullah

A Beginner’s Guide to the Deadlift

First Deadlift by Oplotnik

Ok, when I said beginner's guide....

If you want to be as strong as possible, you need to include the deadlift in your training.

The deadlift is absolutely the second most important exercise for developing full body strength (the squat still being #1 in my book) because it engages every one of your muscles and works them with the heaviest loads possible. Deadlifts will not only make your entire body stronger, fix lower back pain, enhance your rate of force development (power) and dramatically increase your grip/wrist strength – they’ll also condition you to pick up heavy things with a straight back. That means next time you need to toss some bags of dirt around for landscaping or lift a flipped car off of someone, you won’t destroy your back.

So, how do we do it then?

How to Deadlift

  • Start from the floor – If you’re pulling the weight from the safety pins of the rack then it isn’t a deadlift. If you’re starting at the top then that’s a Romanian deadlift which, while an excellent exercise in its own right, is not the deadlift you’re looking for (had to resist the urge to wave my hand there). Th point is, the bar starts on the floor.
  • Center the bar above you feet – You want to stand with your feet a bit under the bar at a little narrower than shoulder-width. You’re going to want to give your arms enough room and if you stand too wide your legs will get in the way.
  • Grip the bar – Your arms should go straight down and grip the bar overhand (that’s palms facing you) with your shoulders directly over the bar. It helps to grip the bar hard and make sure that you don’t bend your arms – this is a deadlift not a curl.
  • Bend your knees – Not too much, but just enough that your shins touch the bar. You may have naturally assumed this position when grabbing the bar to keep your shoulders directly above it. Make sure not to lower your hips as much as you would for a squat, or you’re going to end up scraping your shins or hitting your knees on the way up.
  • Head up, chest out – Look straight ahead and keep your chest out so that your head stays inline with the rest of your spine. Your shoulders should be back and down, not squeezed together like for a squat. Keep your back straight.
  • Lift – Roll the weight a bit over your shins and knees keeping it close to your body until you get to the top position and your knees and hips are locked. Again, keep your back straight and once you get to the stop don’t lean back unless you hate your shoulders.
  • Rinse & repeat – To put the bar back down where it came from, start by pushing your hips back first. Start bending your knees after the bar passes them otherwise you’re going to hit them with the bar and that gets old quick. The bar should be resting on the ground before you start your next lift, don’t cheat yourself.

That’s all there is to it.

Common Questions & Problems

There are a handful of problems that people tend to have when first starting the deadlift. Additionally, because this is an exercise for serious people who actually want to get strong not just pretend they’re getting their money’s worth from that gym membership fee, people usually have a lot of misconceptions. I’ll try to address the most common ones.

  • Won’t deadlifts destroy my back? – The short answer, no. The long answer, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO. In fact deadlifts are an excellent exercise for reducing lower back pain because they strengthen the muscles of your back and the entire posterior chain. As long as you maintain proper form deadlifts will alleviate back pain, not cause it.
  • My shoulders hurt after doing deadlifts. – You are probably leaning back at the top of your deadlift, or are pinching your shoulders on the way up like you would for squats. Keep your shoulders back and down and at the top of the lift don’t lean back.
  • I keep smacking my knees/shins with the bar! – If you’re knees are getting bruised chances are you’re bending them too early as you’re putting the weight back down. Start lowering by pushing your hips backward and don’t bend your knees till the bar passes them. If your shins are the part getting mangled, it’s likely you have your hips too low at the start of the lift. Raise them up a bit, but keep your shoulders over the bar and your back straight.
  • Some guy I met at the gym says deadlifts are a terrible exercise and/or are dangerous. – I don’t want to get into one of those ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ arguments… but they’re wrong. Deadlifts are completely safe provided you maintain proper form.

That’s all you need! Go get started! If you have any questions about proper technique or have hit any problems that weren’t covered share them in the comments and we’ll do our best to help out!

Photo Credit: Oplotnik

How to Fail by Society’s Standards and Have Fun Doing It

Fail Road by FireflyThe Great

This is the path society has laid out for you.


As a male citizen of the United States born into an upper-middle class family, there are certain expectations that are placed on me.

I’m told that I need a good, stable 9 to 5 job. I’m told that I need to have a college education in order to find that career. After all, I’m told I can’t settle for just any job, it has to have good benefits, and a sufficient salary to provide for my family. I’m told I need to have a house. Not an apartment, no, I’m told I need a yard, property, I need to own land. This property better have a garage too, because I’m told I need to have a car. Not just any car, though. I’m told I need to have a new luxury car. I’m told it should be at least as good as, if not better than, what the neighbors drive. I’m told I need to have about two children. I’m told they should be a boy and a girl, though of course I’m told such things are up to chance.

I’m told all of these things are what it takes to be a success in life.

Of course, with all the telling going on, I’ve noticed no ever thinks to stop and ask, “What do you actually want?”

This really shouldn’t be a novel idea. Yet, I constantly find more and more pressure placed on me to do what I’m expected to, regardless of my own wishes. My own wishes, in fact, seem to be entirely secondary to the opinions of others on how my life is best lived.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with this?

Live How You Want

All of that advice on how to live a successful life may have been relevent 50 years ago. Maybe even 20 years ago. The thing is, it’s not anymore. Now, in large part thanks to the Internet, there is no excuse not to be doing what you want to be doing.

Chances are though, you’ve been pushed into following a path in life that society wanted you to take, rather than what you wanted. How can you tell if you could be doing something more with your life?

Evaluate Your Priorities

Sit down for a momement and think about what things in your life are really important. It sounds kind of ‘self-helpey’, but taking a few minutes to sit down and list out all of the things you really want in life can make a big difference.

As an example, let’s look at a few of the things that are important to me and I want in life. I want to travel all over the world. I want to have the financial freedom to go wherever I want when I want. That doesn’t mean I need to be rich, just that I can’t be slave to a job that is location dependent. I want to constantly be improving myself, and helping others as much as I possibly can.

What’s most important to me is continually learning, improving myself and helping others.

Compare Those Priorities to Your Life

Look around you. Is the way you’re living right now congruent with the priorities you just wrote down? If you said your priority is spending time with family, how much time do you spend away from them each day? If you said you want to travel more, what are you doing right now to work toward that goal?

Chances are, the life you’re living isn’t one that’s actually going to move you toward what you really want.

I’ll use myself as an example. When I graduated college and Caroline and I got married, we had tons of plans for how we wanted to travel the world and start businessess and be location independent. So, what did we do?

We got a mortgage and bought a house with help from my grandparents.

Seriously. While I am bound and determined to turn it around and make the whole thing come out profitable in the end, I am amazed at how bad of a decision that was.

Our goal was to travel the world, so the very first thing we do after getting married is saddle ourselves with mortgage debt and chain ourselves to a house. I’m going to plea temporary insanity on this one.

Really, if you ask me now why we made that decision, it just seemed like the thing to do. I know that’s a ridiculous reason to buy a house, but that’s all I’ve got. Like I said, temporary insanity.

The point is that it’s really easy to get lost in the short-term and get pushed into what society expects you to do, rather than think in the long-term about what course of action will actually get you where you want to go.

We’re stuck now, because when buying the house we recieved a $16,000 tax credit. If we sell the house before two years time, we have to pay the government back the $16,000. We just can’t afford that kind of hit, and two years of mortgage payments works out to less than what we’d lose if we sold the house early, so we’re stuck with it.

Are we mad about our decision? No, not really. Sure, if we hadn’t bought it we would be closer to living our dreams – but it’s just one more hurdle making the fight to live life how we want a little more interesting. Wouldn’t be fun without a challenge, right?

Once you’ve figured out what you really want in your life – go for it!

It doesn’t matter if you look crazy or like a failure in society’s eyes, what’s important is that you’re following your dreams.

Posessions Vs. Experiences

When it comes down to it, a lot of the clashes between what society wants you to do to be successful and what you want for your life are an issue of possessions vs. experiences.

Society largely places its value in posessions. You should have a big house, a nice car, a fancy TV, and lots, and lots, and lots of expensive stuff. Society assigns value to a person largely based on what they own.

I value experiences. I’m of the opinion that life isn’t about what you own or how expensive it was, it’s about what you do. It’s about the people you meet, the places you see and the experiences you share with all the people you care about.

You don’t have to live your life the way you’re told to live it. Stop what you’re doing, take a look around, and start living the way you want to live.

How To Make Progress Without Even Really Trying

Path of Least Resistance by Billtacular

It's all about finding the path of least resistance.

Every living thing on Earth is really, really lazy – and you and I are no exception. There’s a good reason for it too, food and water can be hard to come by for species without supermarkets. Even we had to be concerned about finding enough food before about 10,000 years ago. Several billions of years of punishing any and all inefficiency shaped pretty much all life into remarkably efficient things and have hardcoded one basic tenet into all organisms – take the path of least resistance.

When you have limited amounts of energy to expend it just makes sense. If you burn up more energy to catch dinner than you take in by eating it, you’re just not going to last very long. Taking the path of least resistance meant using the least amount of energy necessary to achieve your goals. In the past, that meant effiency. Efficiency meant survival. Everything worked great.

Fast forward to now. Once we came up with agriculture, we set in motion the outsourcing of all our efficiency problems to technology. We don’t have to chase down a rabbit to get enough calories to keep our body working, or wrestle an elk to the ground to feed our family. We walk to the fridge, open it, and can eat more food in a sitting than our ancestors got in a week.

We just don’t have to worry about being efficient anymore, in fact, technology has made our lives so comfortable we have to purposefully do things that are inefficient from a survival standpoint to not get fat. If you tried to articulate to a person from 50,000 years ago that you go out and run around because you get too many calories each day then you better be wearing a poncho because their heads would probably explode with how ridiculous that is.

Times may have changed, but we haven’t – 10,000 years is a blink on the evolutionary scale. Less than a blink, really. If all of human history were one 24 hour period, agriculture would be discovered around 11:58 at night. We are still the same as our ancestors were back when dinner meant killing something twice your size and exercise meant keeping out of a Smilodon’s stomach.

That means that the proclivity for taking the path of least resistance is still alive and well within us. The problem is, it’s just not necessary anymore. It used to be the key to survival, now technology is. Embittered by its obsoleteness, that drive to take the path of least resistance now chooses to manifest itself as an affliction endemic to modern life, motivation-sapping laziness.

You know the feeling. You should go work out, but you really just don’t feel like it. You need to clean up your desk, reoganize your office, and tackle that stack of papers, but you can just worry about it later. You could be learning a new language, practicing Parkour, or working on starting your own business – but that’s hard, and improving your life can wait, you’re almost to the part where you fight Ganondorf.

So How Do You Fix It?

Good question. Thankfully, it’s easy to do. Even better, you won’t just be fixing the problem, you’ll be using the problem against itself to achieve your goals even faster. That’s a personal-development irimi-nage right there.

Step one is to identify and understand the problem itself. Here it is, you have a natural inclination chiseled into your brain to always favor the path of least resistance. That path tends to be the lazy one that leads you away from your goals and toward self-destructive, time-wasting activities.

Step two is to determine what about the problem we can change to remedy it, and the best way to make those changes. Now, some people might jump to the willpower fix. Sure, it may be easy to say, “Well, I’ll just fight it. Tough it out! I can make myself be productive!”

That may work for a bit, but there’s two problems. The first is, you have a finite amount of willpower. Eventually, it’s going to run out and you’ll be right back where you started. That’s just not sustainable. Secondly, you’re talking about fighting your very nature, here. There are some battles you should just avoid in the first place and fighting your base instincts like that is one of them.

So what can we change then? Look at things a slightly different way. The problem isn’t that you have a tendency to take the path of least resistance. The problem lies in where you wind up when you take that path. So what would happen if you redirected things and >made the path of least resistance go to where you wanted to wind up?

Rather than be naturally inclined to do things that work against you, you’d be inclined to do things that further your goals. That means you can get more productive things done without even really trying.

Step three is all about implementing it. This may take some creativity, but it’s usually not too difficult. Determine what things you can change (they’re usually little things) that will make it easier for you to do what you need to do than to do something that wastes time. It doesn’t just have to go one way either, like Caroline mentioned when she wrote about barriers, you can do the opposite and make it extra hard to engage in negative behaviors.

When you start putting these techniques into proactice, you’ll find yourself doing the things you need to be doing without even thinking about it. Before too long, you’ll find yourself progressing towards your goals without having to put in any extra effort.

I prefer ‘show’ over ‘tell’, so let’s look at some examples.

  • Pre-Arrange Your Workout – Have trouble going out in the morning for sprint training, heading down to the gym or going downstairs for a bodyweight strength training session? Get everything ready the night before. Lay out your gym clothes wherever you normally get dressed in the morning, have your shoes and your keys next to them ready to go if necessary. That way there’s no excuse not to get right in your exercise clothes and get started.
  • Freeze Your Credit Card – This is a really old one, but it’s still an excellent example. If you have issues controlling yourself when it comes to using the credit cards, drop it in a container of water and freeze it. That way, it’s a serious pain to pull it out and use it and you’ll only do it if you really need to.

  • Clean Your Fridge – Anyone who’s tried to lose weight knows struggling with temptation is brutal. So, why even let yourself be tempted? Donate all your junk food to people who can’t afford food in the first place, and stock your fridge and pantry with good, primal foods. That way, when you get hungry and go digging through the fridge, you only have good options. If you want to eat garbage, you’re going to have to go out of your way to do it and, chances are, you just won’t bother.

All these are just the obvious examples. If you’re creative, you can find tons of ways to make doing what you need to do easier, and doing what you shouldn’t be doing harder. If you’ve had any success with this, let us know how you did it! The options really are endless.