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The Software Developer’s Guide to Fitness & Morning Productivity (etherealbits.com)
136 points by tysont on May 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

I can't agree more. I can not imagine me doing this work without exercising. I do two workouts per week in the gym, two hours per session, very intensive. All the other days I run at home using the treadmill for 30 minutes, and do around 60 pushups in the morning, 60 in the evening.

So it's just 2+2 = 4 hours at gym, plus 0.5*5 = 2.5 more hours, plus the pushups that is very little time. Let's say 8 hours per week of time spent exercising, but the benefits are huge: it's easy to focus during the week staying sit down without any pain, bad feeling or alike.

Even after a day of doing many things I often reach home that I'm still pretty rested, and sometimes I add a few hours of work if I feel like there is some interesting problem to fix for Redis, or to write some doc, and so forth.

Btw in the previous years I used the treadmill as I do now, but I did not used to do the bigger workouts nor the pushups. I changed my schedule only 12 months ago adding the new stuff, and it's a totally game changer, apparently just running was not enough for me.

I don't know if this is what you do, but I've definitely noticed that working seriously on the power lifts (squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press) has made my joints feel better throughout the day.

I know exactly what you're talking about. Whenever I have back pain I know I've been away from deadlifts too long.

Deadlifts as a recommendation for back pain is, well... controversial. Maybe if you keep the weight low and the only source of the back pain is muscle soreness. I don't doubt it works for you, but in general people with back issues should stay away from deadlifting heavy weights.

Hahaha.. Yeah, I'm healthy and young. I just meant that when my back starts hurting from sitting I know it's getting weak so I need to get my ass back in the gym and strengthen it.

It does nothing, except maybe bad things, if you don't know the cause of the back issues.

Heavy deadlifts fixed my back pain and several people I know. Sure, anecdotal evidence, but back pain isn't well understood and there's no real evidence for your position either.

all people should stay away from heavy deadlifts until they have mastered good form of course.

As an aside, GPs tend to give bad advice on all matters of sports medicine.

Another anecdotal data point: I managed to make my back pain disappear with a combination of deadlifts, squats with good form and stretching of hip flexors. It also fixed some knee issue (side effect of strengthening the legs I guess.) Having recently moved I haven't taken the time to get a gym subscription. After 2 months of sitting all day I managed to hurt my back while sleeping (yep, it's ridiculous); I couldn't bend to tie my shoelaces for one week...

So yep, I'm convinced lifting heavy stuff is good for your back (IF you use good form, of course.)

Back pain can often be caused by having weak stomach muscles and having too much of a gut. The back ends up trying to support the weight at the front which the stomach muscles are unable to support by themselves.

Source: my GP when he told me I was basically fat. :)

Many people might have back pain because of muscle weakness or just too much sitting, I don't doubt deadlifting could help them, so could many other things. But very few of the very many people with various back issues get them properly checked, and if you have any kind of damage to the actual tissues of your spine, than adding 500lbs of extra force acting on them certainly won't help and I don't think we need extra research to see that ;) I guess it also depends what "heavy" means to you - the weight used in a deadlift will always be higher than in most over exercises, but it is not uncommon for people to lift 2, 3 or 4 times their own weight.

It's not as simple as saying that damage to the tissues of the spine are the cause of back pain. for one research example of many, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8747239

Studies like this have shown that herniated discs and other types of damage once thought to be the cause of back pain are present in pain-free people with a high rate of incidence.

Further, it's not known what the tradeoffs are in terms of risking damage vs the benefits of increased strength.

I do think extra research is needed.

FWIW your definition of heavy and mine seem to be about the same: A weight the subject can lift with perfect form for a small number of reps, e.g. <= 5. With training, likely to be in the range of bodyweight x 2 and up.

I never claimed damage to the tissues of the spine is the sole and only cause of back pain, I only said that if you do have damage to the tissues of the spine which is not uncommon you clearly risk making it worse by putting your tissues under huge forces - it is clearly not a health beneficial thing whether it happens to cause pain at the moment or not.

It would be strange if having the strength to lift twice your bodyweight or more would somehow be necessary for a healthy back. There are safer ways of increasing strength of the weakened muscles, but first it would be good to identify whether indeed weakened muscles are the cause of one of the causes of your problem. That's all I am saying - deadlifting is not in general a safe recommendation for undiagnosed people with back issues.

They are also extremely hard to do correctly, and any mistake in form can and will injure you, either over time or due to one bad lift. I personally can't understand why they are so often recommended to beginner lifters.

Buying a book like Starting Strength by Rippetoe and starting with low weights goes a long way to getting your form good enough that you won't seriously injure yourself.

Just to add one anecdotal data point, I've done that and so far(for about 1 year) I have not had any problems. I do squat, deadlift, bench press, press, pullups, and situps. I've worked my way up to 230lbs + bar in deadlift and 200lbs + bar in squat. I experience a little muscle soreness in the back but that is all. I still need to watch what I eat and walk to burn calories since I still need to lose a little weight.

I think these lifts should always been done with qualified personnel. Would also recommend the olympic lifts and swimming.

I'd suggest splitting your two hour workouts into one hour chucks or even making them separate workouts.

There's been a good amount of research implying if not stating out right that an intense workout of more than an hour does more harm than good.

After about an hour you've burned most of the glycogen in your muscles and are just spinning your wheels (ie overworking your muscles rather than breaking them down to build them up).

To me, "two-hour long" and "very intense" in the gym is a contradiction, unless antirez means aerobic work. In my experience if you do heavy squats, deadlifts, presses etc. you will be done in maybe 45 minutes, will have not much energy to do anything else for the rest of the day and it will take all the time until the next workout to fully recover. If you are interested in the best fitness results, this is necessary, for keeping the mental performance high as much as possible the intensity has to be much more moderate.

Indeed in those sessions I do both aerobic and weights in the same session. Like 30 minutes aerobic, and then all the big groups of muscles in the remaining time, but of course there are the mandatory pauses, like 60 seconds every repetition, 90 seconds between different exercises, and so forth. The order is: legs, top part, and at the end I do rectus abdominis exercises.

Too true. If I go heavy on squats or deadlifts I can completely exhaust myself to the point of throwing up and light headed-ness in 15 minutes (Then comes upper body :P), so I call bull-shit that you can have a two hour intense workout.

There's been a good amount of research implying if not stating out right that an intense workout of more than an hour does more harm than good.

This is an extremely generalizing statement. Could you please provide citation(s)?

For example the term "hitting the wall" used commonly among marathoners practically means depleting the glycogen. However this generally happens around the 2 hour mark (assuming no replacement during exercise).

Not all exercises are created equally. A walk in the park is a form of exercise and so is endurance running. Shall we just assume these are equally demanding and stop at the 1 hour mark regardless?

It's been a couple years since I dug into the research myself, but doing a quick search it appears to be related to depleted glycogen, depleting bio-available testosterone, a rise in cortisol, plus various immune system changes.

It hard to find specific articles on the internet though, but here's one that's talks in a general way about it, but doens't come out and say one hour. http://chriskresser.com/why-you-may-need-to-exercise-less

Here's another that graphs the cortisol response vs time, but doesn't link to the specific article. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/drryan6.htm

There are a lot of variables to control for, so of course it isn't that simple.

Intensity is the key. 45-60 minutes of intense (as in you can only have labored conversations during this time) exercise is about all your body can handle at a time though.

I wish I could provide direct citations, but as I said in my other post it's been a while since I was reading the research and it took me weeks of reading to find key nuggets like that directly, mostly it's this article based on that article based on these 10 papers and only one directly comes out and says it.

He pointed out the gym workouts are very intensive. And I agree with the advice from experience; I have a couple of friends who are really good swimmers and they told me their bodies respond better to short training sessions. Maybe give it a try for six weeks and then compare the results.

My comment on the article, which is still awaiting moderator approval:

“Get your heart rate up to your target zone and try to keep it up for 20-30 minutes. Pick a few exercises and do them in circuits with little or no rest between exercises (and a short rest between sets), at high intensity. Lean towards workouts that work large groups of muscles, for example doing push ups (or better yet, burpees) instead of bench press.”

There are a few problems with this advice:

1. The arbitrary goal of increasing your heart rate for 20-30 minutes completely ignores the most important question: what are you trying to accomplish?

2. Circuit training is only appropriate for particular goals. We shouldn’t be prescribing it without the proper context.

3. Implying that push ups or burpees are superior to the bench press, especially in the context of working large muscle groups, again ignores the question of what you are trying to accomplish. If we are talking about strength training in general, then the bench press is superior to push-ups and burpees are almost completely irrelevant. If we’re talking about calorie burning and conditioning, then burpees are superior. But again, without proper context and asking the right questions, this sort of advice isn’t particularly helpful.

> I’ve touched on why I find working out in the morning to be especially beneficial, but I would recommend working out at a time where you know you can be consistent; if you try to vary your workout daily according to your schedule you’re going to be way more likely to skip it.

Yes, do find a time where you know you can be consistent. I run daily and, having tried different schedules, I find that running at 11pm allows me to achieve very good consistency (I've ran 1,500 miles in the past two years and the last time I skipped a day was back in February and that was because I caught the flu.) One problem with running in the morning is that if you oversleep, you'll likely want to skip it.

In addition to finding the right schedule, I recommend living near a gym, as that will help you avoid making excuses to skip days. I live at a place where there's 24/7 access to the gym and that helped a lot.

Mornings were similarly not realistic for me. I've switched to a "midday" workout which for me comes at 5 pm every day. Currently doing 15-20 mins on the elliptical every weekday. My goal is to ease up to 30 mins daily. The benefit gained from 5*30 = 2.5 hrs / week is so much more than I could effectively accomplish putting that extra time into code.

I wish you'd write this up and submit. You say it so casually and yet it's an epic achievement!

Thank you. I'll do that.

People need to start viewing their body as a whole. Your body is a system and when one part of the system starts to decline it affects all other parts of your body, especially your mind.

Going for a jog every day doesn't cut it though, people need to change their diet as well. It's not about eating less but about eating right. Ramen every day for dinner is not good for you eat chicken with salad. Oreos for breakfast isn't good for you eat eggs or greek yogurt. Drinking soda isn't good for you drink water or milk.

You need to get rid of the instant pleasures to get the more lasting ones such as increased confidence, intelligence, and energy. Making the change is definitely worth it.

edit: You should also get a healthy amount of sleep (6-8 hours). Too many people think they can function on 5 hours when only a small percentage can work effectively with that much rest.

I think though for someone currently doing nothing, the jog is a step in the right direction. I think the right amount to be doing is something you can keep to, can always add to it later.

Yeah, going to gym straigtaways is way too painful. I started gym once, and I my whole body was in pain for whole 1-2 weeks. (I gradually left after a month) I think, had I started in bit by bit, experience would have been better. I have to start again this summer break, and hoping to start bits by bits this time.

Over the last year or so, after gradually changing my lifestyle to include some exercise and giving some attention to what I eat, I can personally attest to the fact that productivity and efficiency has greatly increased. There is also a marked improvement psychologically in terms of the will and desire to do things. There really seems to be an increase in energy levels as compared to before, and I seem to have a clearer dialogue with my body now. Post-workout metabolism has done wonders for my previously irregular and haphazard appetite.

I also agree with the bit about protein consumption in the morning. It can be a simple smoothie, along with scrambled eggs & some almonds, or it could be one of those whey-enhanced protein shakes - either way, it'll keep you going in full steam till lunch time.

Interesting. I just listened to the Security Now guy (Steve Gibson) who has been going super low carb and has done a couple of geek specials on the subject. Very good information in the two podcasts he did. Here's the link to the first one:


If you have a lot of energy problems during the day -- besides exercising, going completely very low carb is a good way to even out the post-carb crashes that plague lots of people like myself.

Dropping carbs dramatically after living a life where you ate a normal/high amount of carbs is going to, most likely, make you miserable. If decreasing your carbs is of interest to you, do so slowly over time.

I can't really agree with this. The hardest part of going cold turkey "no carb" is the first week; after that, just watching weight literally fall off (I lost 15kg in two months) and having a constant energy level without the "carb crashes" are an excellent reward, which is important considering the time most people give up dieting is early, before they've really had a chance to change their lifestyle.

completely agree with you.

This has been true in my experience. I'm not sure if this approach is always better, but over time I've been gradually reducing carb intake and what used to feel impossible without being miserable (50-60 net carbs/day) is now painless.

However with the gradual approach, you probably won't get that dramatic shedding of weight some people talk about. I don't care about that, personally, because I get enough satisfaction out of steady progress and make a game out of optimizing my diet with delicious yet low/moderate carb food.

low-carb is cool but make sure to get some carb before/after exercising. Especially it's important to mix some carb with proteins after the workouts.

It depends on your goals. If you're super low carb and trying to lose weight they a moderate amount of carbs would be good, but if you aren't low carb and trying to lose weight then I'd skips the carbs (Carbs after a workout are mainly used to boost protein uptake in the muscles, not to restore energy, you don't burn enough during a workout to need more than time to restore the glycogen in your muscles).

Can't agree more. Here's a relevant talk with a Stanford lecturer talking about thethe science of "willpower". She specifically mentions exercise as being proven to increase measures of willpower (things like being able to delay gratification in the short term to fulfill long term goals).


And who couldn't use some more willpower?

Interestingly, another thing she mentions as having significant benifits is meditation. I've seen that anecdotally in successful people, as well.

As for exercise, it's very true that finding something that works for you is very important. Just to throw another idea out there: For me, I struggle to get full benefit out of going to a standard gym. What I've found works fantastically for me is going to a Crossfit gym in the morning. They're short, high intensity, varied, interesting workouts. Having a group of supportive people around you, and a skilled trainer has been invaluable. I've had great success (and fun) with this.

I find that a consistent exercise routine helps to implement good habits in other parts of my life, such as making good food choices, sleeping well, etc. And it certainly spills over into my work, as well. I just have more confidence and improved sense of well being. One thing that keeps me going is keeping in mind the long-term benefits. Not only will it improve my day, but I have a goal of living a long life with all my capacities.

I've recently started swimming and love it. If you have access to a pool, I cannot recommend it enough. I'm also in the middle of the "100 Pushup Challenge."

Great advice.

Just remember that whatever you do, do it with drive and intensity or don't expect results. In much the same way that leaving a tab open on Codeacademy won't magically make you a better developer, loafing around in a gym won't get you the results you want. Especially if you're lifting: if you aren't sleeping enough, eating properly (moar protein!), and training hard, you won't see the progress you're capable of.

I have to disagree with this part:

"do it with drive and intensity or don't expect results"

I made a pretty radical change in my diet and dropped 82 pounds. I think the first 70 or so came off in 6 months. It required some focus, but not a lot. I had done a lot of reading about habit, and was already professionally trained as a hypnotist, so I combined habits with hypnosis and made a fairly dramatic behavior change with pretty minimal effort.

Likewise, at the same time, I was going to the gym every day, but because I had a severe health issue, I was working out very, VERY gently. I was basically walking on a treadmill at 3 miles per hour for an hour every day. It's more active than not exercising at all, but I couldn't call it a "drive and intensity" situation.

I think this whole "drive and intensity" myth is the major problem with Hacker News as a community, in fact. I abandoned hacking entirely for almost a year, during which I just sold how-to videos and coaching on my blog. I made decent money and there was not a lot of drive or intensity involved there, either.

Drive and intensity can be great things, but I've definitely had a great number of experiences which point to them being inessential to success. I'm happy to go so far as to say that neither are of equal value to research, clarity, good logic, or sound strategy.

Yeah, I can definitely see room for disagreement with how I worded it. What I really meant was "do it with drive and intensity or don't expect optimal results."

I'm active enough on enough fitness communities to see plenty of people make good-great progress on their own or ho-humming things. Compared to a completely sedentary lifestyle, ho-humming it will result in great progress.

Drive and intensity for something unproven (working on a side project, startup, etc) obviously yields unpredictable results. That's where the problem with HN is. But for something like exercise that has a long body of research and countless case studies, drive and intensity (provided proper form, nutrition, etc) only improves results.

I think that's fair. I think plenty of people would describe a dramatic change in diet as an intense thing, and I certainly don't think there's any harm in intensity, as long as it's intelligently applied, and it's different from some kind of demented obsessiveness.

Drive and Intensity to me means frequently (daily or bi-daily for fitness) making small amounts of progress on your goals.

Intensity without drive. Working on something for 8 hours then forgetting about it for a week or more.

Drive without Intensity. Working on your project all the time, but never getting anywhere with it. (Always in planning/research, making it perfect, etc)

Even though you were walking gently, the fact that you did the exercise every day is generally more drive and intensity than most people will be willing to achieve

Would you mind elaborating on your diet change(s)?

Sure. Basically just this guy's work:


I eat beans, fruit, and vegetables, and that's basically it. No starchy vegetables (i.e., potatoes, squash), and occasional nuts and seeds.

No meat, grains, salt, sugar, alcohol, or pretty much anything other than fruits, vegetables, and beans.

In addition to losing weight, I lost 100 points of cholesterol and also saw improvements in my blood pressure, my teeth, my skin, and other areas.

I went off it because I got bored, and I got all the weight back. I went back on it about a month ago and I've already lost 16 pounds or so.

Why are you going back onto a diet that you clearly can't sustain? What makes you believe you won't, in time, gain back the weight you are losing now?

Crash diets work for a few people, sure: people who have the self-control and determination to adjust to a normal diet following the crash period. But the vast majority of people they simply do not work. I'd have given you the benefit of the doubt before, but your past experience clearly puts you in the latter category. So why continue?

"Why are you going back onto a diet that you clearly can't sustain?"

Who are you kidding? I stayed on it for a year and a half and then got bored. It wasn't a struggle, I just stopped making it a priority. It's a pretty gigantic leap from there to "clearly can't sustain."

"Crash diets work for a few people, sure"

It's not a crash diet. Re-read the pages I linked to, and the comments I made. I don't have time to continue this conversation but it's nothing personal.

I would consider gaining the weight straight back a sign that it's unsustainable.

If you care about your long-term health, it is much better to get your protein (and all other nutrients, by the way) from an actual meal and not from a supplement, because of digestive issues:


What would be good foods for doing this?

In my opinion, if it's just about enhancing recovery after a workout, ideally you would eat any food rich in high-quality protein (chicken if you have access to grass-fed, pork, nuts if you vegatarian etc.) + some green vegetables (voluminous but low in calories, to supply fiber that will help digest the protein) and after the main meal maybe a grapefruit or orange (vitamin C speeds up recovery). If you look to gain weight, you can additionally eat more carbohydrates with the meat and also eat some carbs before the workout.

And what if we take protein supplements and don't have these issues? It sounds like it only affects a small portion of the population - just like pretty much any other food. How many people are intolerance of gluten, or lactose? Would you suggest bread or milk are bad for your long term health?

At least a significant percent of the population, if not the majority, is said to be lactose intolerant:


Besides that, if you ingest a protein shake and eat nothing for a few hours the toxic waste products of digesting the protein will stay in your bowels longer then with a richer meal.

Another benefit I've found is that the majority of my "eureka" moments happen while I'm alone in the gym.

Agreed, I've found jogging to be particularly good at clearing my mind. I like going to the gym in the afternoon for that reason: I can work for a while, and then take a break to jog when I inevitably get frustrated by something :)

If I may ask, what are you usually doing when you get those moments? I'd love to be able to spend time at the gym thinking, but usually when the blood flows out of my brain and down to my muscles, I'm lucky to be able to add two numbers together.

Usually while lifting. They seem to come when I'm thinking about nothing at all! I don't think about it on purpose... just happens.

A lot of say you feel great after an exercise section, but how? I always feel sweaty, my throat feels constricted and I feel I need to go drink some water.

And that is true, even if I only do it for 10 minutes in the morning.

Endorphins. It's strange that your body doesn't produce them.

Yeah, I don't get high unless I've cardio'd for at least 45 minutes. 10 minutes isn't nearly enough.

Goes for all skilled jobs where your create.

Morning? What's that?

The last few hours before you go to sleep.

Summary: exercise is good. Eating right is good. Both can help your career.

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