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11 Lessons From the World's Top Fitness Minds

11 Lessons From the World's Top Fitness Minds

I recently learned from 22 of the world’s brightest minds in health, fitness, mindset, community, warfare, adventure, and more.

Why it matters: These 11 ideas will help you meet goals faster, improve your habits and happiness, breathe and age better, and more.

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11 Lessons from Sandlot Jax Speakers

I recently spoke at the 2023 Sandlot Jax fitness festival and also emceed all the other talks. There were 22 total. Think: A TED Conference focused on health, fitness, nutrition, adventure, and more.

The speakers included CEOs of the world’s top fitness brands, Special Forces soldiers, CIA operatives, top nutritionists and trainers, and more.

These ideas stood out:

1. Train in uncharted environments

From: Christian Shauf, Founder and CEO of Uncharted Supply Co.

  • Exercise outdoors—the wilder nature, the better. It will improve your fitness and mental toughness more.

Why it works: Unlike a gym, the wilderness is not climate controlled, predictable, or perfectly manicured. All those factors make each moment tougher. You must account for the weather, terrain, wildlife, and more. This improves not only your fitness, but also your ability to manage all sorts of uncomfortable and unpredictable situations.

How to use it: Christian gave a fun tip that I loved. “Run outside and get lost. See if you can find your way home. I always wear a Garmin so I can get home, but I try my best to find my way home without using the Garmin.” The trick forces him to pay attention to his environment and exercise longer as he finds his way back.

2. Compete against yourself

From: Dee Brown, NBA veteran, and 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Champion

  • Dee played against the greats. Michael Jordan, he said, is the greatest of all time.
  • Jordan was famously competitive with other players. But Jordan’s real secret—and the secret of all the NBA greats—was that he was really competing against himself.

Why it works: Psychologists outline two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation, they write, “leads to some separate outcome such as a reward, approval from others, or the avoidance of punishment.” Intrinsic motivation, conversely, is “doing an activity without the necessity of external prompts or rewards because it is interesting and satisfies the basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.” I.e., intrinsic motivation allows us to rise higher instead of falling to the level of our competition. The psychologists wrote that intrinsically motivated people are “more engaged and persistent, perform more effectively, and display higher levels of psychological health and well-being.”

How to use it: One of my favorite lines (one I remind myself of constantly) is “Be a racehorse.” When racehorses compete, trainers put blinders on the sides of their eyes. The reason: The moment those horses look at what the horses next to them are doing, they get distracted, slow down, or even collapse. I.e., they fall to the level of their competition. Take that same mindset in your work: Be a racehorse.

3. Fix the problem and shut up about it

From: Paul Litchfield, Head of Product at GORUCK, Inventor of the Reebok PUMP

  • Paul invented the iconic Reebok PUMP. But it almost didn’t happen.
  • Disaster struck when Reebok was about to release their first run of PUMP shoes. The valves of 2,000 of 6,000 pairs of shoes weren’t working, making the pump useless.
  • Paul secretly paid a team of sewers to work five days straight to fix the issue.
  • The shoes dropped on time—and became one of the best-selling shoes of the 1990s. Paul didn’t tell anyone else at Reebok about the problem until a few years later. Catastrophizing the issue and looping in higher-ups would have slowed the process and led to a bungled launch.

Why it works: When problems strike, our first inclination is often to complain or look for help. Complaining does nothing. Help is necessary if we can’t fix the problem ourselves. But if we can fix the problem ourselves, we’ll work faster by solving the issue quietly and immediately.

How to use it: Got a problem you can solve? Don’t complain. Just fix it, move on, and don’t go looking for praise by announcing your accomplishment.

4. Breath well under stress

From: PJ Nestler, VP of Performance at FitLab

  • The downshift breathing protocol can help you recover quicker and perform better—especially under stress.

Why it works: Box breathing—a slow breathing technique—has become popular among people interested in increasing their performance. And it’s great for when we’re at rest. But it backfires under high-stress situations, like intense exercise or performances. Better is to use the downshift breathing protocol, which matches the intensity of the situation. This better restores the balance of your oxygen and CO2, helping you recover and de-stress.

How to use it: When you’re in a high-stress situation and need to recover or calm down, try the downshift protocol:

  1. Take six deep and fast breaths in and out of your mouth. 

  2. Now take five deep and fast breaths in your nose and out your mouth. 

  3. Now take four “recovery breaths,” where you quickly suck air into your nose, and then slowly breathe out your mouth.

5. Smile first thing in the morning

From: Michael Chernow, Founder of Kreatures of Habit

  • Smile immediately after you wake up. “And I’m not asking for a grin,” Michael said. “I’m asking for the biggest grin ever.”

Why it works: Researchers at Penn State recently looked at the research on how smiling impacts mental and physical health. The studies “consistently suggest that smiling may have a number of health-relevant benefits, including beneficially impacting our physiology during acute stress, improved stress recovery, and reduced illness over time.” The scientists pointed to several plausible reasons why this is. But the TL;DR is that smiling—even forced smiles—seems to boost happiness and reduce our stress. We’re more likely to behave in a way that improves our lives and the lives of others.

How to use it: Just like Michael said. When you open your eyes in the morning, immediately look up and smile—big, toothy, near-idiotic—for 20 seconds. You’ll feel dumb the first five seconds, then it’ll be fun—and then you’ll have a better day.

6. Follow the 30/10 rule at breakfast

From: Dr. Mike Roussell, top nutritionist

  • Eat at least 30 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber at breakfast to kickstart muscle recovery and rebuilding processes, feel more full and eat less junk throughout the day, and more.

Why it works: Most people stack their protein and fiber in an unideal way. If a person eats 100 grams of protein daily, for example, they might eat 10 grams at breakfast, 15 at lunch, and 75 at dinner. Distributing the nutrients more equally across a day by following the 30/10 rule helps us live and perform better.

How to use it: To get 30/10 at breakfast, try a protein shake or Greek yogurt with berries, oatmeal with a scoop of protein powder, etc.

7. Age like a badass

From: Tina Petty, Burmese python hunter

  • As you age, finding more adventures will improve your longevity and increase your sense of meaning.

Why it works: At last year’s Sandlot Jax Ruck Panel, Tina asked us, “How do you continue to level up as you get older and the injuries come more often, and the recovery takes longer?” Dr. Kelly Starrett took the question and answered, “You don’t. You set competition aside and train for adventure.”

Tina’s adventure is hunting Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. They’re an invasive species decimating the environment and killing off most mammals (more on that here). She’s helping the environment in a way that gets her outdoors and moving far more than she would in a gym. The act also brings more meaningful rewards, because she’s helping the environment.

How to use it: What’s your version of hunting Burmese pythons? Escape the monotony of exercise by finding an adventure. Be a badass like Tina now and always.

8. Make exercise convenient and community-oriented

From: Miranda Alcaraz, CEO of Street Parking

  • Miranda created Street Parking. It started with her and her husband Julian posting simple, at-home workouts online.
  • It’s now morphed into a 35,000-member training group. They’ve discovered that the key to getting more people to exercise is to make exercise convenient and build a community around it.
  • Their workouts have a low barrier to entry, and members post their workouts and interact together online and in person.

Why it works: Communities develop under challenge. Research shows communities become tightest during times of hardship rather than ease. We can create this through group activities like exercise, volunteering, and more.

How to use it: First, develop a handful of simple workouts you can easily do anywhere. Next, look for a community to do hard things with. It could be online or in person. An excellent place to start: Street Parking, F3 (which is free!), or the GORUCK Training app.

9. Carry stuff

From: Sebastian Junger, Author of The Perfect Storm and Tribe; Co-Director of the war documentary Restrepo

  • For his book Freedom, Junger walked the railways of the Eastern US.
  • He carried with him everything he needed to survive and came to some interesting conclusions about freedom and the act of carrying.

Why it works: I’ve written about this at length, but carrying is the ultimate human physical act. We’re the only mammal that can carry weight for long distances on our own volition. It allowed us to take over the world. Still today, it’s one of the best things we can do for our health and fitness.

How to use it: Ruck, duh :). But also carry things in your gym workouts by doing loaded carries (here are a bunch of carries to try), and in regular life by carrying every opportunity you can—duffel bags instead of roll bags at the airport (GORUCK’s 57l Kit Bag is my favorite duffel), groceries while shopping, putting a light ruck plate in your everyday bag (here’s the one I use), and more.

10. Work remotely—very remotely

From: Matt Sherman, Senior Advisor to the US Department of State and Defense during the Iraq and Afghanistan War (fun fact: I traveled to some rather dangerous parts of Iraq for my new book, Scarcity Brain. If I was in danger, I was to call a very high-level politician there and say “I’m in trouble and I know Matt Sherman”).

  • After the war, Matt started hiking. He’s covered 15,000 miles on foot, hiked *everywhere,* and done hikes that last months on end.
  • Matt carries gear that allows him to make calls, send emails, etc from anywhere.

Why it works: Matt shows that you can, in fact, live the life you want to live while maintaining a solid career. Tech can be a great blessing if you use it to do more of what helps you.

How to use it: Matt’s setup runs entirely through his phone. He recommends the Iridium GO! satellite wifi hotspot and OCENSMail low-bandwidth email app. He also uses a small bluetooth keyboard so he doesn’t have to type out emails on his phone screen.

11. Put goals on a deadline

From: Ebenezer Samuel, Fitness Director at Men’s Health

  • Ebenezer has found putting your goals on a deadline allows you to reach them faster.
  • The tactic has helped him get in shape for Men’s Health fitness videos where he has to do incredibly hard exercises.

Why it works: Having no timeline for a goal makes it easy to slack off. Research shows deadlines help us prioritize our goal. So we work harder—and progress faster.

How to use it: Next time you set a goal, give it a deadline.

Thanks for reading. Have fun, don’t die.


P.S., I’ll post footage from my Sandlot Jax talk soon.

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Sponsored by GORUCK

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