The first half of 2016 was a blur. With my family and the Kenzai crew, we uprooted ourselves from our cozy Tokyo home and moved to San Francisco. A big international move like that picks you up by the ankles and shakes around your priorities. My own fitness was one of the first victims. After the dust had settled, I had a place to live, an awesome new office, and about 15 pounds of excess body fat on my frame.
(Here's what stress-eating, poor sleep, and no real exercise will do to you in six months. Even if you run a fitness company!)
It was time to reprioritize my health and fitness and dive into a training cycle.
I'm always looking for ways to test out new ideas and features, and wanted to use my training time to try some experiments. In the years since the launch of our first programs, a lot has changed in the online space. Our program was designed in a world of asynchronous communication - you write a blog, you get a comment a few hours later, you respond to that comment a few hours after that. Today there's much less in the way. You upload a photo to Instagram the moment you take it and people respond almost instantly. You start a live-stream and hundreds of people drop in to see what you're up to. So I thought I'd try running through the 90 day Kenzai Body program with a whole new level of transparency, taking and uploading photos of all meals, and live-streaming every single workout in real time.
I like to give my projects names. Attaching a name to an effort makes it easier for your brain to grasp it as a concrete part of your life. Looking at the body mass hanging off my body, I was tickled by the idea of all that fat sitting there, thinking everything was going great, only to wake up on Day 1 and find hellfire raining down upon it. It was going to be an apocalypse for that fat. A Fatpocalypse. And I was going to livestream it.
The Fatpocalypse began on August 1st and ran through October 29th. Each day I took photos of every meal and snack, and opened up live streams to every workout. The end of the day was capped by a quick blog post on the Fatpocalypse page. It was an interesting and informative experience. Here's how it all went down.
(A completely honest, transparent before and after picture, without use of lighting tricks or differences in pose. In a future lesson I'll share some of the tricks people pull to make their before/afters look impressive!)
On this round of training I mobilized roughly 15 pounds (7kg) of body fat to arrive at a fat percentage around 12%. This is in line with what I'd expect from my body with this kind of light training. A loss of three pants sizes and much better fitting shirts. Visible abs, although my abs are genetically small and narrow making them my least impressive feature. Good gain in tone throughout the body.
My muscle mass increase was less significant than in past trainings. My theories on this:
1. I'm pretty good at all the exercises in Kenzai Body. My brain slots everything in place and I can move through sets and reps with ease. This is why it's important to keep moving on to different training variations as you work through your programs!
2. Higher than usual stress levels. The more stress you have, the poorer your rest and recovery will be, meaning less muscle gained. Running a start-up, dealing with a new country, and making sure my wife and daughter were ok really put the screws on and I could see the effects in lackluster muscle growth.
3. Age. With every year that passes you have to fight a little harder for each gram of new muscle tissue. At 37 this isn't a huge factor but it will increase importance every year. Curse the ravages of time!
All in all, it was a solid and rewarding training cycle. It provided all the benefits of a good program. Better focus, more energy, more decisiveness. The thing I really felt this time was how when I was treating my own body right I was able to treat everyone else better. Eating and drinking your way into a hole not only makes you fat, it makes you kind of mean. This was a new dimension of training that I hadn't experienced before.
Let's talk about all those workouts that I livestreamed. How did it all play out and what did I learn from the experience?
(Every day, every workout, live streamed to the world)
The accountability works well. When you feel like you need to show up to your workout not just for yourself but for an audience, the internal resistance is much lower and you tend to get on with it. I didn't miss a single workout, 89 days in a row, and each one was live-streamed over either the Periscope or Facebook Live app.
I found that I couldn't help but switch into presenter mode when I did the workouts. I talked to the camera, answered questions, showed the right way to do the exercises, and worked through my thoughts and feelings out loud. This made the workouts a true communal experience. There were usually at least 4 people watching, and up to 400 at a few points. I have no idea who these people were, or why they were watching, but just knowing their eyes were on me certainly kept me on the straight and narrow. There's a huge potential here to use the live-streaming to recreate the fun and energy of a group workout amongst people all over the world.
Live-streaming, at least the way I did it, resulted in less intense workouts. When you're broadcasting a workout, you not only have to think about your sets, reps and form, but whether you're on camera, whether the angle is right, and what you're saying to the audience. I would get a ton of questions, and I would try to answer them while doing the exercises. With all the talking, camera adjusting, looking up to read comments and "likes" I had some pretty disjointed exercise sessions. A good workout has you dialed in, moving quickly between exercises, and digging deep. The camera makes this hard. A part of your brain is always thinking about how you look, how you're presenting yourself, and what the audience is thinking. A better implementation would be to only do a few workouts a week live-streamed, or to have the camera in a place where you could forget about it.
It's the wild-west out there. I've been an online "personality" for about 15 years. I'm used to the weird, aggressive, trolling comments that roll in from time to time. So I was ready for the name-calling and abuse that dotted the live-stream from time to time during my workouts. At this point, it's almost the background noise of working online. I'd say about 90% of comments were positive and fun. The other 10% were the usual mix of lewd abuse. If you're not used to that world, I wouldn't recommend trying anything like this, you've got to be able to smile and laugh off people messaging you some pretty horrible things.
During the Fatpocalypse I made a commitment to take a photo of every single meal and snack of the 90 days. Here's a sampling of about 200 of my meals (click on the image to open up a high resolution version in a new window).
And don't forget the snacks! Here's a sampling of the more than 250 fruit and vegetable snacks of the program. Banana anyone?
That's a lot of photos! How did it work out?
Taking a photo of every single food input is essentially forcing you to exercise mindfulness via your smartphone. You look at your food as an outside observer would. When your look through your gallery you see trends much more easily. It encourages you to mix things up. Posting the same meal for the twentieth time is a bummer for both you and the audience. I was so sick of posting banana pictures for my fruit snacks that I went out of my way to try new fruits during this program, if for no other reason than to have a different photo!
The food photos also had another benefit - they made me take just a little more time to dress up and nicely plate my meals. It seems like a small thing, but during training your food can really be drained of its joy. When I would nicely arrange my meal it relieved some of the mental fatigue that comes from month after month of strict eating.
I got really sick of taking the food photos. Sometimes you just want to throw something together and eat without thinking about capturing the experience. Having this constant extra step every single time you want to get some food in your body got old. I took some comfort in the fact that my photos were showing people what a real training looks like, but beyond that educational angle I was so happy when the program was over and I could just eat!
The thing I most disliked about the food photos is that it forced me to have my phone with me at all mealtimes. This resulted in more mindless eating as I texted, browsed the web or watched a video while I ate. Eating is such a fundamental biological function. Constantly coupling it with a hi-tech gadget is a mismatch that I found grating. And there was nothing worse than my food getting cold as I looked around for my phone!
Overall, taking photos of every meal seems like powerful motivator when you're getting started. It exposes your bad habits and makes you think about every gram you're consuming. But once you're in the groove and eating clean as your new normal it becomes a real chore. A good compromise would be to take photos only of meals that you're particularly proud of or want to capture as good ideas for future dishes.
The Fatpocalypse was a success on all fronts. I mobilized all the body fat that was dragging me down, and more importantly got a handle on my habits and routine in the context of our new life in California. I got a lot of ideas about how to improve Kenzai Body and Kenzai in general. I got a crash-course in all the different ways to connect with people in the modern tech landscape, and I met a lot of really cool people from all over the world.
As is usual with a good training cycle, I found my mind opening up and embracing change. I started up my Aikido training. I started drawing again. I was more present for my family. When you train hard and feel fit, life gains a vibrance and shimmer that's hard to explain, but which every Kenzai trainee has felt for themselves. It's good medicine.
One thing that stood out to me was that after just a few weeks of photos, blogs, live-streams, and Instagram sharing, I was thoroughly sick of myself. I reached a point where the constant uploading and sharing was exhausting. I feel this sentiment from a lot of people. I suspect a backlash is coming with social media, as people are able to squeeze less enjoyment out of all the likes, shares, and upvotes, they'll return to seeking deeper and more meaningful connections.
When you want to find out what a knob on a machine does, the quickest way is to turn it all the way up. Seeing something at its extreme gives you good information on how it can be useful a normal levels. That's what the Fatpocalypse did for me. By going all-in on the sharing and streaming it became really clear what was helpful and what was just noise. I learned a lot, and you'll see some new features coming which take the best from these new technological capabilities.
Thanks to everyone who followed the Fatpocalypse, and to our wonderful Kenzai community that provides the creative spark for everything we do. If you've gotten busy and gone off track, get inspired by my example - the lean, strong body you want is just a few months away!