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Staying Fit With No Gym in Sight

My Brother Wax Mannequin and I poached multiple playground, hotel, and basement gyms during an extended road trip together – August 2016

If you look around on the street these days, you might get the impression that it is really, really difficult to stay in shape beyond the age of about 30.

Sure, there are a few competitive athletes, movie stars and Navy SEALs around that still manage to keep in strong form, but if you are not willing to devote your entire life to training, you might as well just head straight for the stretch pants, right? Older age strikes and there is nothing you can do about it.

Oddly enough, if you could peer at the financial statements of your fellow citizens, the story might be similar: consumer debt is normal, the bills keep piling up, and only the movie stars and athletes (and corrupt CEOs of big banks, of course) make enough money to actually get ahead.

These opinions are widespread, and often fiercely defended as Truth. This is why I have been happily surprised over the years as I discovered that the prevailing wisdom is completely wrong: it’s not only possible to become wealthy on an average salary, it is just a natural byproduct of living a healthy life. Similarly, you don’t need a crushing workout schedule, a $250 per month gym or a team of professional trainers to be in very good shape. You just need to focus on the basics and avoid the worst pitfalls.

But as the years go on and I talk to more and more people, I realize that very few people even know these basics, and they think some of the pitfalls (for example drinking a big glass of orange juice with breakfast) are actually healthy life choices. So with New Year’s Resolution time approaching, I thought we could dish out some of this old school knowledge right now.

Fig.1: MMM enjoys a brief zero dollar workout on the patio.

Fig.1: MMM enjoys a brief zero dollar workout on the patio.

Let’s use plain old Mr. Money Mustache as an example. I’m an average 42-year-old white nerd who has never played a competitive sport in his life. I made my career in office work and enjoy beer a bit more than I should. And yet I feel great – despite the fact that I keep getting older and live a deprived life without the personal trainer or private chef that every wealthy person really deserves.

Even worse, I don’t even have a gym membership, and the months I spend away from home every year have been compromising my access to even the basic backyard barbell set that comprises my only fitness equipment. I have spent about 2 of the past 5 months away from home, which means a lot of time with no gym in sight.

All of these factors, yet all systems seem to be better than ever. Returning from the latest travel binge, I found roughly the same level of strength and bodyfat while keeping the same overall weight on the scale. How can this be?

Fitness as a Part of Life
 (rather than something you do at the gym)

Far too often in modern life, we cut an artificial line between the ideas of getting in shape and everything else we do. People train for Ironman events, but then drive a car for local errands. They use the stair machine in the gym, but then take the elevator up to the 12th floor in the office building. They claim that getting in shape is important, but then drive their kids to school in the morning in one of the world’s most ridiculous spectacles of Car Clown behavior.

We sit still at work, sit in automobiles, and stand still with rolling luggage on the airport escalator to avoid the strain of the staircase, and hire contractors to take care of our lawns and shovel our driveways. And then we wonder why we get fat, or injure our knees and backs, or get any other less-than-satisfactory performance from our bodies. Only the most dedicated workout junkies (rebranded as CrossFitters these days) seem to get anywhere, and even they often fall off the wagon and become mortals eventually.

I feel that there’s a better way to get good health results, but with much more efficiency than what most people achieve right now. You could boil it down to the philosophy of “use it or lose it”.

Principles of Efficient Physical Fitness

Not everybody likes the act of exercising itself, but everybody likes being in shape. The key to getting the latter without having to commit your life to flawless execution of the former is to understand the concept of exercise efficiency – getting the best results with minimum time and minimum risk of failing due to bad habits.

Principle Zero: Moving is Normal, Sitting Still is Hazardous
Before we even begin, we need to make a change to the most basic paradigm of modern life. Most of us sit or lie down almost constantly: to sleep, eat, work, drive, and even (shudder) to watch TV. Instead, I like to think of sitting as something you do as a short break from your real life. And you should feel just a bit uncomfortable when sitting down, because it really is a hazardous activity.

Whenever you get a chance to move, take it: get up and pace around while you read books. Attend your conference calls with a mobile phone headset while out walking along the river. Cut your own lawn. Walk the 5 miles across town that you would normally drive. Always, always take the stairs. Never, ever use a drive-through. You can even try taping your laptop to the drink platform of a treadmill and working as you pace slowly along at 1 MPH (I have tried this and it is amazing).

If you’re thinking of taking on a job that requires more than a few minutes of car driving per day, consider this equivalent to accepting a job in an Asbestos mine or an old Russian nuclear power plant. You might still do it, but only if the benefits greatly outweigh the obvious costs. Similarly, if you’re considering spending an afternoon on the couch watching football, pretend that you have to wear an inhaler that dispenses just a tiny dose of Cyanide into each breath. With this comparison in mind, you can decide if you still weight the passive entertainment more highly than, say, taking your kids out to play in the park.

On really good days, I might spend 4-10 hours walking or biking  around for various reasons like errands, carpentry, and just plain old strolls, and these really good days result in incredible happiness. On days when I fail to obey this Principle of Constant Movement, I instantly devolve into a more average and grumpy person.

wintersquats-bw

I don’t have room for an indoor home gym at the moment. So instead I keep this squat rack just outside my back door, to eliminate psychological barriers to the most important exercise. Mud, snow, hot, cold – it’s all good for you – just do some damned squats, at least a couple times per week.

Principle #1: Building Muscle is Far More Effective than Cardiovascular Training
I think the most common beginner fitness mistake in the world might be when people decide to start jogging or other aerobic exercises as a method of weight loss. Double Fail Points if you go for a treadmill or a stationary bike while watching TV inside a smelly commercial gym.

So many people slave away at these cardio-related things like aerobics classes and treadmills and still look almost the same several months later. Most of them end up quitting as they lose motivation in the face of the poor results. And then the weight loss industry is right there waiting, saying they must have just bought the wrong diet shakes. Or the “accept yourself as you are” movement tells them that body composition change is impossible, so you should give up.

The real reason for the failure is that cardio training activities (while great for your heart) are very poor at triggering the growth of muscle tissue. You pump the heart and breathe vigorously and burn a few calories during that brief session, but then the session ends and you’re back to your regular self.

On the other hand, people who lift or move heavy things get triple benefits:

  • The same heart and lung bonus up front as they lift weights and break down existing muscle tissue
  • The massive calorie implosion required to rebuild those muscles to a new, stronger size
  • Then a permanent ongoing burn required to maintain that fine new stronger form

As Tim Ferriss demonstrates in the Four Hour Body, it is possible for a relative beginner to trigger over a pound of muscle growth (3500 calories of body composition change) with just one brief session of barbell squats.

Let me repeat that in different terms: you exceed the calorie burn you’d get from 4-8 hours of riding a stationary bike in the gym, in about 4-8 minutes, by warming up your legs and then performing a few sets of 5 squats, working up to a weight that is fairly difficult for you.

To clarify this after many angry and skeptical comments below: YES, the squats themselves burn only a few dozen calories. But by breaking down the tissues of your largest compound muscle group including quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, and a plenty of assisting muscles, you force your body to rebuild the entire set bigger and stronger. This is an incredibly calorically-intense process which can take almost a full week to complete. Thus, the total net energy cost ends up being several thousand calories.

Calorie testing on myself over the years confirms these figures are roughly correct – hell hath no appetite like that of a person who has done his or her squats properly. As long as you refuel from this hunger in a strategic manner, you’ll find your fat reserves getting vacuumed away at high speed.

How do we take advantage of this? Start thinking about feats of peak strength rather than the conventional 30-minute periods of sweaty endurance training on a stationary bike.

Principle #2: Every Bodypart, Whenever Possible

These are your muscles. Understand the big groups, then work them regularly.

These are your muscles. Understand the big groups, then work them regularly.

Most people think of exercise as all one big interchangeable thing: “I get plenty of exercise walking my dogs and gardening”, or, “I was able to drop my gym membership because I bike to work now.”

This is the wrong way to think about it.

Sure, mild exercise is still far better than sitting still. But you get much better results if you think about each muscle group and make sure you have overloaded it recently, thus sending it the message to become stronger.

As a start, you could think of your body as having five groups:

  • Legs
  • Back
  • Chest and triceps (your “pushing muscles”)
  • Upper Back and biceps (any time you find yourself “pulling”)
  • Core (all the complex muscles that hold you together at the middle)

Now, how will you overload each group at least a little bit, every day or two?

If you like to go to a gym, and you use the free weight room instead of the inefficient cardio stuff, great. Through my teens and 20s, I was on this plan and it went well. But after getting married, then becoming a father, I found that long stretches of time would pass as I became complacent and made excuses. This is not great – to improve from wherever you are now, you need every muscle group to be blasted down with reasonable exertion (enough to cause at least a tiny bit of soreness) – every week.

To translate the vague concept of muscle groups into practical exercises you can do in many places, here’s a guide of my favorite exercises. You can look these up anywhere to get the basics of how to do each movement safely. For example, Google “How to Do Squats”.

Legs:

  • Squats (with just your own weight when getting started. Then with barbells, or one-legged if no barbells available)
  • Deadlifts
  • Jumping on or off of anything (including boxes like this one)
  • Running up and down stairs
  • Sprinting around anywhere
  • Urban Parkour-style hooliganism with friends when visiting any city
  • Note that my daily cycling doesn’t count as a real leg exercise, since it’s a heart-building rather than muscle-building exercise.

Back:

  • Pullups from any bar or overhanging surface. You can assist yourself with your legs if you’re not yet strong enough to do real pull-ups.
  • Barbell or dumbell rows
  • Pulling any heavy item from the ground to your chest while you’re bent over.
  • Snow shoveling, digging trenches, chopping wood, moving bags of concrete
  • And anything else that feels like hard work is probably good for your back.
  • The Deadlift, mentioned under “Legs”, is also great for your lower back.
    But build this strength up slowly if you’re untrained – we’ve all heard stories about unfit people who “throw out their backs” when lifting something after years of deadly inactivity. The goal here is to make your back unbreakable – for life.

Chest and Triceps:

  • the Clean and Press (lift a barbell from the ground to over your head – my second favorite exercise in the world after squats).
  • bench press
  • dumbbell press
    (these first three are generally only if I’m lucky enough to be at home)
  • dips
  • pushups
  • On the road, the barbells are unavailable so I try to increase to 100 pushups per day, and using any available parallel surface, inside corner of a kitchen countertop, or pair of posts for dips.
  • To increase resistance, you can get a friend or loved one to sit on your back during pushups: 8 insanely hard pushups are better for you than 50 easy ones.

Core: 

The benefit of doing real-world exercise (especially sprinting) instead of lame treadmills at the gym, is that it forces you to flex and stabilize all your abdomen and oblique muscles and make them stronger. But you can still target the core directly with a few of my favorites:

  • Planks (hover your body flat and still with only forearms and toes touching the ground for 60-300 seconds)
  • Leg-raises while hanging from a bar, tree branch, or anything else
  • Twisting or jumping motions of any sort
  • Situps and abdominal crunches

Important note: core and abdominal muscles do not help you lose abdominal fat any faster than any other exercise. The fastest way to lose fat (after fixing your diet) is to accelerate calorie burn, which means triggering muscle growth. So if you want better abs, do squats.

Principle #3: Resisting Heavy Motion Delivers The Results


Consider the following counter-intuitive trick: walking down a flight of stairs delivers much better strength and muscle-building results than walking up that same flight of stairs, even though going down is much easier. I learned this amazing shortcut just a few years ago, but it has allowed me to get better results in less time ever since.

To put it into practice, you can bend your legs more deeply when going down stairs or hills, lower your body more slowly during pushups and pullups and weight exercises, and in general think about fighting loads as the chief source of strength.

For example: riding a bike won’t build much leg strength because it’s all concentric (pushing) with no eccentric (resisting). Adding in a few lunges as part of every day (or deep jumps, or squats of any form) will massively increase the benefits.

Principle #4: Turn The World Into Your Gym

Pull-ups in a public park in Portland this spring.

Pull-ups in a public park in Portland this spring.

With these basics covered, we can move to the real world to find ways to apply them. You will never miss a workout again, because from now on the entirety of every day you live will be a workout. With your eye on potential ways to overload your muscles, opportunities will come out of the woodwork. So let’s make all this work in Real Life:

Walk and Run for Transportation-  and Borrow Bikes when you Travel
Sidewalks and roads. Curbs and airport and hotel staircases. These are all amazing fitness machines, disguised as boring urban infrastructure. By seeking them out during travel, opportunities to stay fit magically materialize.

For example, when visiting people I make a point of borrowing one of their spare bikes if available. You can also install the Spinlister* app on your phone, and rent bikes from locals – instead of cars from bland international rental car chains – whenever you’re on a trip.

As a result, I have enjoyed bike tours of dozens of US cities and even a good number of international spots that were often the highlight of the entire trip. If you seek to maximize your effort, the benefits come quickly.

Lunge Whenever Nobody’s Looking
You can transform the mild benefits of walking into a shockingly fast muscle builder you can do anywhere, just by learning how to lunge. The effectiveness comes from the fact that you’re causing peak muscle overload in a mostly-eccentric (downward) motion. I recently did one lap of deep lunges around a soccer field (which took all of about 90 seconds), and it was enough to give me pleasantly sore legs for two days.

Even better, you can explain that paragraph above to your friends, and challenge them to lunge a block together on as part of an evening outing – for example on your way out to happy hour. You’ll love the fun of doing this ridiculous thing together in public, and the reactions you’ll get from the strangers, almost as much as you love your new <arnold voice> sculpted and bulging quadriceps and buttocks muscles </arnold>. Pain equals gain!

Sprint Whenever you Can
Performing just a single 10-second sprint across a park or a parking lot can change your body for the better.  But you can also apply this principle on the bike, or during a set of pushups, or even when shoveling a driveway of snow. Any time you want to become better, challenge yourself to max out for the next ten seconds!

Whenever you go to peak exertion, you are telling your body it is time to grow. If you stay within your comfort zone, the body decides it is fine as it is. Sprinting will send your body this change signal, in almost every situation.

100 Pushups per Day
Or even 10 pushups if you’re new to the pastime. I love this exercise because it is so efficient: If I move as quickly as possible, I find it takes only 15 seconds to do 25 pushups. Since it is such a small commitment, it’s easy to keep to it four times throughout the day, resulting in a reasonable strengthening of the chest and associated muscles with a total time investment of one minute.

Pro Tip: I make myself drop for 25 or 50 pushups every time I am going to indulge in something questionable like a beer or a high-carb snack, to help compensate for the negative effects before they happen.

Playgrounds and Gym Poaching

Saving the best for last: although your own fancy gym may be far off in another country when you’re traveling, there is almost always a public park with a play structure that can provide many of the basics for free. You can sprint and do pullups, dips, jump off of high things and land dramatically in the sand, do situps, chase kids around, and generally get a surprisingly good workout.

Bonus Principle: Sugar is the Devil, Fat is your Friend

The tips above will make a huge difference in any life that is currently too sedentary. But your body will fight to keep its fat reserves, and it will win this fight, if you obey its requests for constant sugar and carbohydrates.

For details I will refer you to Mark Sissson’s primal blueprint, or Tim’s Slow Carb Diet. But for me the basics are really simple: I avoid bread, pasta, and any desserts or sugary drinks including fruit juice. And the idea of buying soda for home consumption or even ordering one at a restaurant is as horrifying to me as drinking drain cleaner. If your goal is fat loss, Do Not Drink Calories!

Instead I eat mostly vegetables, nuts, eggs,  oils (mostly olive but with no rules against butter and coconut oil!) and an average amount of minimally processed meats and dairy. It’s your basic low-carb diet, and I’ve found a 100% correlation between bending the rules of this diet (occasional pizza and beer), and the rapid softening of my waistline. If you haven’t tried this way of eating yet, you might be pleasantly surprised with how easy it is.

Related Article: The Amazing Waist-Slimming, Wallet-Fattening Nutrient

That’s it. Sure, there is much more to fitness than these five principles, but they are big ones, and enough go get started. This is infinitely better than not getting started, so let’s go.

Further Reading:

The New York Times, on why exercise should be a rewarding part of your daily life, not just a chore you treat like a health prescription. 

Gary Taubes writes and rants about how our high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet is the source of most of our problems. I saw some of his articles in the NYTimes, then moved on to read his book “Why We Get Fat.” I’m torn on this, because there is still scientific debate on the ideal diet and some reputable doctor friends disagree with me. But my own results and a recent rigorous blood test are good enough to keep me very enthusiastically on the high fat, high-vegetable, low-carb diet.

Klaus Obermeyer, now 96, inspires you by refusing to age, citing benefits of keeping active as the decades pass.

*Spinlister is a pretty cool invention and I want them to succeed. If you’re visiting Longmont (for example to do a DIY bike-powered version of the brewery tour), you can rent bikes from the impressive fleet of one of my friends – his are all the bikes you see on the East Side. You can use my referral code for a $5 credit if desired.

 

  • Viktor December 16, 2016, 8:31 am

    Excellent article! Now, how about a Tim Ferriss interview of MMM?

    Reply
  • Red Badger December 16, 2016, 9:09 am

    A few years ago, OI decided to stop being a wuss. I eat a modest amount of whatever I want while keeping meat to 1 small serving per day (and none on some days). I also enjoy a minimalist approach to staying fit. I walk briskly 3-4 miles most days and, overall, average about 10 mikes a day. I do crunches and push ups 3-4x per week (3 sets of 100). My routine only requires two items; the earth and a good pair walking shoes.
    My bio-metrics are awesome. total cholesterol at ~ 160 (HDL – 100 or so). All others just as good (Tri’s, hemo, etc).
    Also liked Eat to Live, while it’s under some (warranted?) criticism, the nutrition density is powerful stuff to know for most anyone. So, stinky gyms, no fitness club dues – just a new pair of shoes about 2x per year.

    Reply
  • EDSMedS December 16, 2016, 9:13 am

    I recently used the term “European Fit” to describe non-gym healthiness, basically meaning those that move regularly, you know, picking up fresh veggies in a woven basket, walking the cobblestone alleys, dodging bikes.

    “On days when I fail to obey this Principle of Constant Movement, I instantly devolve into a more average and grumpy person.” <– me; anxiety causes habitual motion which can only be directed not prevented. Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett is a great reference for quality movement patterns for those that can't stop.

    I'm an ironhead (A2G squat = joy) and I sprint at least three times a day (because LIFE) but my fitness goal is to have the ability to collect flowers for my wife from our garden when I'm 90.

    Reply
  • SisterX December 16, 2016, 9:34 am

    This is timely, as I just spent most of the last week either sitting or lying down. But I think having a bad bout of flu gives me a pass for one week. (Don’t worry, I’m up and ready to get back to my normal activity, including the bike portion of my commute this morning.)
    One thing that you didn’t address is the biggest excuse I hear for not getting fit: I have kids, I don’t have time for this! What bullshit. First, my husband and I have found that having a kid motivates us even more to get/be fit because we want to keep up with our Demon Child. Second, we want to live long and healthy lives so that she doesn’t have to deal with us getting sick and dying young. It’s so much easier to spend a few hours a week working out than it is to spend years living unhealthy, sedentary lives.
    Last, having a kid means that you’ve always got a workout partner and/or heavy object. :) Now that she’s three one of the things she and I like to do together is to exercise! I come up with things that are challenging for her and we work on them. She’s one strong, tough kiddo and it forces me to be even more badass in an effort to out-do her.

    Reply
  • Andrew December 16, 2016, 10:34 am

    Hi MMM, try checking out Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Intense physical activity, core-strengthening, body chess. I got into it after learning Josh Waitzkin (Bobby Fisher) comparing BJJ to the highest levels of chess.

    Reply
  • Michael B December 16, 2016, 10:35 am

    Mustachians would do well to look into the Convict Conditioning strength training book. It’s about how to get ripped with minimal equipment by using the world as your gym.

    Reply
  • Keren December 16, 2016, 10:41 am

    I’ve finally started eating healthier and I’m seeing my weight starting to drop. But exercise… My resting heart rate is 90. If I do even minor exercise my heart rate soars. I wouldn’t know how to pace myself and do it right without injury. Any recommendations (books or resources) for someone starting from zero at age 39?

    Reply
    • Keren December 16, 2016, 11:07 am

      Okay, I saw a recommendation in the comments for hasfit.com – they have a 30 day program for beginners. And it’s free! I’ll give it a try.

      Reply
  • Patrick December 16, 2016, 12:24 pm

    Great Article! I have not had a gym membership for a couple of years now. I live in Hawaii so it is really not necessary. I bike to the park while everyone else fights over a parking spot at the UFC Gym, I buy my supplements in bulk from Amazon (they last months) while others visit the vitamin shop weekly. I also use a generic suspension trainer (G-Strap Pro), Pull up bar, and resistance bands. I am constantly downloading new fitness applications and trying them out. My favorite is Freeletics. It is a body weight exercise application. The Dione is my favorite workout 150 burpees, 450 jumping jacks, 150 sit-ups, 150 straight leg levers. I just broke my old record time on this workout now 24:25. I feel I am more fit now then I would be if I had a gym membership and was battling for parking at the gym. I worked in a gym for years in college, and also have a degree in Physical Education with concentration in exercise science. The best exercise is the one that you will do. The one that you can make a lifestyle out of and enjoy.

    Reply
  • EnjoyIt December 16, 2016, 12:27 pm

    This is my biggest problem. Although I am relatively healthy, which includes gym, swimming, and biking on different days, I spend way too much of my life in front of this computer reading blogs, surfing, and just wasting my life away. Look at me, I am doing it right now. Somebody please stop me!

    Reply
  • Chris Rowe December 16, 2016, 3:17 pm

    Hi Mr. MMM… new to your site. Read this article and wanted to add my affirmation to a particular point: “But for me the basics are really simple: I avoid bread, rice, and any desserts or sugary drinks including fruit juice.” I talk about this idea all of time and almost this exact phrase will escape my lips. I am down from 255 in Feb 2016 to 195 for the past 2 months. People ask me how and I say “Don’t eat carbs” or I’ll say, “If you can trace its origins back to a plant, don’t eat it.” But that is just to get their attention, but the idea still holds true. It’s the way I started…super low carbs per day…less than 25. Read Gary Taubes (another source) book, “Why We Are Fat and What to Do About It” I did not even read the whole thing. Just some then found a sample low, carb diet at the back…I think it is from Duke University. Since I’ve gotten back down to a reasonable weight and %BF, I have adapted diet to essentially be “If it comes from a plant and is not the plant itself or its fruit, don’t eat it” During the weight loss time, I have not done any exercise regime to speak of. The most consistent thing I have done is push-ups, so more affirmation to your philosophy there. I could only do 10 at one time when I started my eating regimen and now do 47. But I don’t attribute much of that increase to my increased strength. It’s just much easier to push up a 195 lb body than a 255 one. So that is just to say that for me, how I have been eating what is responsible for my weight loss. Bacon, butter, cheese, eggs, protein shake with straight cream and frozen berries (my go to when the family breaks out the ice cream) I have these to thank for my 60 lb. loss in 8 months and 2 months of maintenance.

    Reply
  • carlo319 December 16, 2016, 5:43 pm

    Thank you for reminding the basics.
    I want some muscles, but not really to “look good”,
    just functional muscles to have physical strength when I, or others need it.
    I want a long and happy life.
    I don’t want to die in a hospital,
    after giving financial and emotional burdens to my loved ones.
    I am dreaming and praying for a peaceful death,
    in old age and at home…

    Reply
  • Rachel December 16, 2016, 5:48 pm

    Very timely post for me! I turned 30 last year, and largely thanks to you I started biking to work and doing bodyweight exercises… and… gained over 10 pounds… Of muscle, I think, because I definitely have more muscle definition than before. I must be one of those rare ladies who bulk up easily. Or maybe it’s my metabolism slowing sneakily? Either way, this post will be an awesome inspiration as I redouble my efforts to stay for at 31!

    Reply
  • Nathalie Mattsson December 17, 2016, 3:03 am

    I really enjoy this post and in my life I try to exercise as much as possible. My problem is it feels like I will die (drama queen? – yes) without carbs. I have tried more of a low carb high fat diet, which just doesn’t do it for me. I am a vegetarian so meat is not an option. I eat about 6 or 7 times per day yet I am hungry. Not exactly great right before a work out. I have tried to drink more water and put oils in about everything I eat, but it doesn’t work.

    So my work out every week is this; I cycle to and from work every day (thats 15 miles there and back), I do pole dancing (advanced level) twice a week and then some strenght and flexibility in between.

    Any tips on how to make a low carb high fat diet work?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 17, 2016, 1:45 pm

      Hi Nathalie,

      Maybe you don’t need the lower carbs at all? After all, my typical carbohydrate intake rises along with my activity level: after an all-day mountain hike or something similarly intense, it’s eat-whatever-you-want day. Your biking and dancing seems pretty intense too.

      The time I get strict about carbohydrates is during lower-activity weeks (i.e. during travel which involves cars and planes), or when I’m getting noticeably fatter (often correlated with above). When you want to lose fat, count and attack the carbs, starting with sugar and bread first. Otherwise, you can be pretty relaxed about it all. As many have pointed out, quite a few carbohydrate-rich foods (sweet potatoes for example) are also full of great nutrition.

      Reply
      • Carrie December 17, 2016, 4:10 pm

        I also agree that you may need carbs in your diet. Good carbs are very healthy for you and will give you the fuel you need to sustain your activity level. Oatmeal, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, legumes, beans, lentils, acorn squash, barley, wild & brown rice, quinoa, etc. are all great choices. (in moderation, of course)

        Reply
  • Alex December 17, 2016, 4:29 pm

    Hello MMM!

    Been reading (and loving) your blog pretty much since its inception, and I think I need to point a few things out.

    Some of us got into endurance sports for the pure joy of movement, while also enjoying the sights — not for losing weight or trying to get nicely looking abs. Some of us actually love running (not jogging), cycling on a road bike or an MTB, and swimming both indoors and outdoors. It’s just our idea of fun.

    Moreover, this estimation here — “you exceed the calorie burn you’d get from 4-8 hours of jogging, in about 4-8 minutes, by warming up your legs and then performing a few sets of 5 squats” — is way, way off. By a margin the size of Texas :)

    Here are some numbers, OK?

    Latest short recovery run of ~37min at av. heart rate of 135bpm (142bpm max) = 329 calories

    Latest short functional training session (squats, triceps dips, planks etc.) of ~35min at av. heart rate of 119 bpm (156bpm max) = 217 calories

    See where this is going wrong for your estimation? Our bodies just don’t work the way you say they do :)

    Oh, and we do shit like interval training too :) Put your running shoes on, warm up, then do 12 repeats of running 1.5min uphill as hard as you can. Or get on your bike and ride 20min as hard as you can at a steady pace, rest, then do it again. This is how we get those nice fast legs that carry us around.

    That said, I totally share your sentiment about being frugal regarding sports as well. I never had a gym membership because I just don’t see the point. I can do all my functional training at home and have great runs outside at any temperature, in any weather (and I’m way up in the Northern hemisphere).

    Reply
  • Wielgs December 17, 2016, 9:07 pm

    Good post Mustache.

    Make your own $6 TRX http://scoobysworkshop.com/diy-trx-6-dollars/

    In addition to Four Hour Body, the best comprehensive DIY common sense total body guide : http://scoobysworkshop.com/

    The human body is capable of so much more than we can do to it in a traditional workout session. When you think you’ve maxed out you’re probably only at 10%! That’s right, only 10%… I thought I was a badass until I started running with a friend who is an accomplished ultra runner. He had me read “Living With A Seal” by Jesse Itzler about a year ago. Back then I could do 8 pull-ups on a good day (I’m 200lbs). One year later – 20 pull-ups with a 40lb vest. It’s all in your mind. Once you figure out how to break through your subconscious barriers you will experience deep lasting change. This can be 1 pushup or 100. It doesn’t matter where you start. Smoking weed also helps, which may seem counter-intuitive.

    Reply
  • Chris December 17, 2016, 10:21 pm

    Thanks for this! And if anyone happens to be in Tacoma WA, let me know on Spinlister that you are a MMM reader and you can use my bike for free! (I have the green Linus bike).

    Reply
  • dave December 17, 2016, 10:31 pm

    Comfort is unhealthy. When we feel comfortable we stop being challenged growth stops and we begin regressing.

    Reply
  • Andrew December 18, 2016, 5:01 am

    you look awesome in that picture. when did you start lifting seriously, I am 36 year old dad.

    Reply
  • Ben Seigel December 18, 2016, 12:49 pm

    I’ll add a few things:

    * Everyone is built and wired differently. Lots of cardio may in fact be great for some folks’ health, fitness, or appearance, while others may be better results from lifting heavy things.
    * Cross-training, that is, mixing up what do you, is good for the body and brain. Runners – try a park workout. Weightlifters – try Parkour. Yoga fanatics – try boxing.
    * An awful lots of folks – teachers, trainers, and participants – have HORRIBLE form. I’ve seen this in the gym, in yoga class, even watching folks run. In the long term, bad form leads to injury. Please find a competent trainer to guide your activities. [Hint: This is not someone with 10-week certification in “personal training” or 50 hours of yoga.]

    https://secure.flickr.com/photos/crossfitpaleodietfitnessclasses/8206430193/sizes/l/in/faves-15949117@N00/

    Reply
  • Rudiger S. December 18, 2016, 1:20 pm

    Check out the book Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade. Not only does it recommend a highly effective, bodyweight exercise only workout regimen that you can perform on-the-go, I just realized that the entire “philosophy” laid out in the book is surprisingly close to Mustachianism. Great read!

    https://www.amazon.com/Convict-Conditioning-Weakness-Using-Survival-Strength/dp/0938045768/

    Reply
  • William December 18, 2016, 5:33 pm

    Any chance you have a routine that you use and maybe some worksheets?

    Reply
  • DWH December 18, 2016, 7:14 pm

    How long did it take you to build up to 100 push-ups a day?

    Reply
  • Adam December 18, 2016, 7:17 pm

    Walked up to the 12th floor for the first time in months this morning. Thanks for the motivation – hopefully will keep it up. I’ve been struggling with high cholesterol for a year now, and increasing dietary saturated fat makes me quite anxious because it’s listed as the major cause of an increase in LDL cholesterol (far more than consuming cholesterol itself). Although my diet is pretty terrible anyway so cutting out the carbs and keeping the fat may just be win-win.

    Reply
  • Andy December 18, 2016, 11:51 pm

    MMM, my wife is a huge fan, and after seeing the photos in this article, I’m starting to understand why. But, seriously, what gives? If Warren Buffett began posting selfies of himself shirtless and ripped (don’t let those conservative suits fool you; under there is 100% prime-grade beef), wouldn’t that detract somewhat from his message? Though I might be completely wrong. Would those fusty rich people trade in their Cadillacs for bicycles, stop eating at the Golden Arches? Now that’s a future we could all embrace.

    Reply
  • Nickie December 19, 2016, 2:28 am

    This sounds fantastic but it doesn’t apply to me – for family medical history reasons, I’m not allowed to do ‘isometric exercises’. I’m not an expert but I think that covers most of the above. My internet research has not yet turned up a clear list of exercises I could do that are not isometric – is this something you can point me in the right direction on?

    Reply
  • Ian W. December 19, 2016, 7:47 am

    I used to forego having a gym membership, but one of the perks at my current job is a fully equipped gym for $50 for the entire year. In addition to bicycling, being able to end my shift, walk downstairs and get a solid workout in before returning home is super nice. Even with some deals I see where you pay $5/month for a certain amount of time, I’m still paying less than that.

    If I ever leave this company, I can easily do without the gym. But for now, I’m sticking with it.

    Reply
  • Laura December 19, 2016, 9:48 am

    While I agree with most of what you say in this article, the title, I think, is misleading. More effective at what? I have read a lot of articles that say you should be focusing on weight-bearing exercises, and I agree that they are a very important part of a successful exercise plan, but I fear people just reading the headlines, or just skimming the article, don’t getting the full picture. Cardio is still effective–for strengthening your cardio-vascular system. Maybe cardio isn’t the most effective way to lose weight, or the most effective way to look good and have nice muscle definition, but it is the best way to maintain a healthy heart and lungs. I think this benefit is often ignored because it’s not something you see. I’m not suggesting you neglect this because it’s obvious from your lifestyle that you have cardio built into your every day, but for people who sit at a desk all day and drive everywhere, I think a better health goal is to do it all: cardio, weights, flexibility exercise like yoga, and proper diet.

    Reply
  • Ann December 19, 2016, 1:29 pm

    Inspiring as always. I use my house for exercise, stand up to do computer work, stretch and dance while I’m doing it, use stairs instead of elevators etc. The reason I love this approach is that it suits my personality – I rarely FEEL like exercising, and can talk myself out of it very easily if it relies on going somewhere, putting on special clothes, or using special equipment. I also do the Five Tibetan Rites on my floor. If anyone else does these and is a bit of an exercise expert, I’d like to know their opinion about these. I know what good they do but I’m interested in looking into where they might be lacking so that I can make up the deficit with another exercise.
    On another point, this badass approach to exercise and life in general is all made possible by TIME, and that of course comes from not having to work for money. I am not financially independent but, inspired by MMM and others, I have no debt and am able to work for myself and for much less time. This means I get more sleep, think straighter, eat better, exercise more and am almost 10 Kg lighter. So just saying, MMMs got it all straight and even without having everything perfectly optimised, the rest of us can still live less crookedly.

    Reply
  • Ann December 19, 2016, 1:33 pm

    (I don’t mean my badass approach to life. I mean MMMs! I’m sub-badass)

    Reply
  • Michael Jones December 19, 2016, 4:22 pm

    So they key i took out of resistance training is “you have overloaded [the muscle] it recently”. But what is recently?
    I’ve done a hell of a lot of internet research on this and there does not seem to be any consistency. Do you need to work a muscle group once a week? Twice a week? 3 times a week?

    The other question is how long it takes to overload the muscle? Obviously heavier weights is better, but how many exercises typically are required to overload the muscles?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 20, 2016, 2:34 pm

      Hi Michael,

      You’ll benefit from some weight training books at this stage, but the general rule seems to be this: You trigger muscle growth by overloading them somewhere between 1-2 times per week depending on the intensity of the work, and the size of the muscle group. Once you’re warmed up, 3 sets of 5 repetitions that feel very difficult is enough to do it, at least initially.

      And of course, keep all the muscles moving and stretching every day, rather than just doing squats then going straight back to the couch.

      Reply
      • Michael Jones December 20, 2016, 3:46 pm

        Thanks MMM!
        The comments above about stronglifts 5×5 seem to match what you have said. So i think i will give it a go!

        Reply
    • a1pharm January 3, 2017, 8:15 am

      Everyone’s body is slightly different. The best way to figure out if you can work the muscle again is to do a deep stretch of the muscle, and if it is still a little sore it is not ready to be worked again. You’ll find that some muscle groups on your body recover faster than other muscle groups.

      Do the stretch test before re-working a muscle group.

      Also: consider the soreness the sign that your body is building more muscle. Let it finish recovering before you put it to work again to maximize the total amount of muscle you build in a set period of time.

      Reply
  • Bristlingblackmustache December 19, 2016, 11:04 pm

    You found the secret. I’ve been following Sissons Primal Blueprint for about 5 years now. I train for my job as a firefighter and to compete in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge. Lift heavy (Wendler 531) in my basement, lots of sprints/intervals, and walk a lot. The Challenge is tentatively scheduled in late July in Longmont! You should come check it out!

    Reply
  • Ian December 20, 2016, 2:53 am

    Greetings from Bangkok. Excellent post. I’ve been in the Fitness Industry for about 10 years doing product development of “evil” cardio machines and now am selling fitness equipment in Indo-China to hotels, condos, apartments, etc. The fitness industry has provided me with a good living and rewarding career and is quite fun! The biggest thing I’ve learned from this industry is like MMM says….you don’t need equipment or a gym! I will never tell my customers that of course.

    I begin each day by rolling out of bed to do 3 sets max rep of pushups, body weight squats or lunges, and planks. I work these in as I’m brewing coffee and getting ready in the morning. I take the stairs always (I’m on the 9th floor), and mix in a 20-30 minutes workout during lunchtime in my office showroom when possible doing HIIT (8 sets 30 seconds). I’m dripping sweat and at about 94% of my max HR in just 15-20 minutes. I mix in some compound weight exercises when possible. I also do alternative fasting (calories IN from noon – 8pm only) and follow Mark Sisson’s 80/20 rule, where basically I follow my “wellness routine” above 80% of the time and don’t beat myself up if I slip up or miss a routine.

    Basically my motto is: “I don’t live to workout. I workout to live.”

    Merry Christmas!

    Reply
  • Kasia December 20, 2016, 10:00 am

    Really timely article for me as just sort of watching what I eat and sort of doing cardio aren’t getting me anywhere. My former personal trainer recommended Strong: Nine Workout Programs for Women by Schuler and Cosgrove – so for any women who don’t know where to start, find this article intimidating, and are beginners, so far this seems to be fabulous book I plan to undertake and blog about in coming weeks!

    Reply
  • lurker December 20, 2016, 3:33 pm

    There is no problem that can’t be solved in a garden….I think staying in shape might qualify as well as long as the Permaculture path is taken.
    Mr. Money please let your family design a nice food forest to go around your new house….you won’t regret it……I can promise you will eat better than ever and learn a ton……great combo indeed.
    cheers.

    Reply
  • nutrivore December 20, 2016, 8:33 pm

    Two things that have helped me immensely – http://www.simplefit.org/workout.html

    and Taekwondo. Martial arts use bodyweight and are working out with a group of people is more fun and challenging.

    Reply
  • Rene December 20, 2016, 8:41 pm

    Wonderful article, one of my favorite subjects! Working in health care (physical therapy) I see on a daily basis what happens to people who choose sedentary lifestyles, as well as those who suffer from illnesses that prevent them from moving without pain. Your article points out that one does not need to spend money necessarily to stay fit, but to integrate movement into your daily lifestyle. I love that!! I recently joined the local YMCA as a trial to see how often my family will use it (plus work reimburses a small sum), otherwise we hike, bike, work, walk and exercise around the house. Keep up the awesome writing…..thank you!

    Reply
  • Andreas December 21, 2016, 1:16 am

    This is a brillant article – certainly one of the best self-help insights on the web: simple, practical, doable.
    Thanks you very much!

    Reply
  • Martin December 21, 2016, 3:59 am

    You promote a high-fat-low-carb diet which is endorsed by some non-doctors like you mentioned Mark Sisson and Tim Ferriss. While studies shows that Low-Carb-Diets can indeed work for weight loss, they are bad for your health and your arteries. Doctors like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn or Dr. Michael Greger advice to go “whole foods plant based” and it seems that this is the more healthy options. This also means no sugar, no white rice, no white bread and so on, but beans and whole grains instead.

    There are numerous studies who show the benefit of whole grains and numerous studies (like more than 1,000) that show that red meat will decrease your life span and will make you unhealthy.

    Going away from the doctors, I would especially recommend “The Blue Zones Solution” from “Dan Buettner”. He has a completely different approach. He is looking for culturally insolated zones in the world where people live the longest lifes and it seems that there are some patterns. Especially, all of them consume few or no meat and beans very often.

    I am not a vegan, I have leather shoes, I do eat meat sometimes (prefer lean chicken, because this seems the least unhealthy option), but I want to eat as healthy as possible with only a few deviations from this plan. And for me, it seems going Low-Carb is the wrong way. All scientific evidence is against it. Be it the doctors who have the the studies or be it people like Dan Buettner who are acutally studying what long living populations do and eat.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 22, 2016, 12:46 pm

      Dan, I’ve read a lot on both sides of the issue, and it looks like neither of us has the energy to quote specific meta-studies right at the moment. But I find one key in understanding health is thing is that being a “Doctor” is not much of qualification for assessing health care data. See “Dr. Oz” for a great example of this.

      A doctor is a busy health care practitioner who has jammed his or her way through a memorization-intensive curriculum. A scientific researcher goes through a completely different course of study and follows a more helpful methodology for conducting and assessing research. And if you understand that methodology in enough detail, you can actually become a world-class researcher with no degree at all. Rare but theoretically possible, since Science is really a lifetime method and mindset rather than a fixed set of school-taught knowledge.

      Reply
  • Jesse December 21, 2016, 10:26 am

    Great article. I’ve been following the reduced sugar and refined carbs plus higher fat diet this year with good results. No doubt strength training is the way to go. I’ve lost weight and increased my strength by “working out” less this year by focusing on Olympic style weight training. Still using a gym, but it’s subsidized by my insurance and city living (no car commute, lower energy, less stuff, less space) more than offsets the cost.

    Pro Tip – Intermittent fasting. Stop eating breakfast, skip lunch or dinner occasionally. It’s simple and saves money. Check out Dr. Jason Fung’s Obesity Code and Intensive Dietary Management for more information. A lot of good science there to back up the practice.

    Reply
  • Lyn December 21, 2016, 10:44 am

    Good article.

    The sad thing is, gym membership has increased over the past decade, but people statistically are more out of shape than ever.

    I used to go to the gym to do barbell squats and deadlifts (not many girls doing that there!), but now I just do bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, one-legged squats, stretches, martial arts kicks, and lots of trailbiking in warm months. (I’m not hardcore enough to bike in winter like Pete. Damn.)

    I’m convinced by the evidence that a high-carb, high-sugar diet has played the biggest role in the explosion of obesity, diabetes, and other issues. Cutting carbs and moving more is what’s working for me. Doesn’t cost much.

    Reply
  • Doug December 21, 2016, 11:22 am

    This article is spot on. Forgeo the gym membership, buy a barbell and a rack, use it 2-3 times per week and your body will change for the better, long term too.

    Reply
  • Andrew December 21, 2016, 5:50 pm

    This is why I like my job as a cable guy. I weigh 135lbs, the ladder I carry around weighs in at 200lbs, plus my safety gear, boots, and tools. I always use the stairs when installing cable in office buildings when feasible. The elevator has to get used sometimes. Crawling under houses is a great core workout if I want to keep my stomach out of the dirt. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to move into an office position, and turned them all down because of how much I like getting paid to exercise. I hope I’ll always be able to work and think instead of sit and think.

    Reply
  • Kelsey December 21, 2016, 11:20 pm

    After living in 3rd world Africa for a few years, I’ve seen this proven first hand. Most of the men living in town have six-pack abs from pushing furniture around on hand carts, hauling produce and entire families around on pousse-pousses (bicycle taxis) and doing generally hard labour to eke out whatever living they can. People in this county walk or cycle everywhere. Strollers don’t exist, and small children are carried by mothers, fathers and siblings. Processed food is expensive; fruits, veg and minimally processed rice are inexpensive and widely available, and thus are eaten (in huge amounts!) by the general population in my area. The folks I work with in a relatively new manufacturing setting (office and field workers alike) have slowly developed pot bellies over the past two years, as they can begin to afford scooters and processed food, as well as jobs that are more sitting and walking than pushing and pulling. This financial progress is great for the workers and their families in terms of stability and the ability to afford healthcare, but not so much for their fitness. Great article!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 22, 2016, 12:31 pm

      That’s a cool story Kelsey, and similar to what I’ve noticed on a few trips to rural vs. urban Ecuador in recent years. The unfortunate part is that candy and soda culture is on its way in – clean water is sometimes scarce, but you can always get a 2 liter bottle of glowing green soda for a few pennies, so people have this at their dinner table. Villages have great, simple food, but grocery stores in bigger towns are lined with an insane array of candies and cookies – about 3-4x more than even US grocery stores seem to have, as a percentage of allocated floor space.

      Reply
  • Frédérique December 22, 2016, 5:54 am

    Hello
    I have been reading your blog for some time and really like your advice on saving money and retiring early although it is quite a different challenge here in France, but this article is so disappointing !
    I love sports, but the main goal should not be to loose weigh or look good, but to feel good and improve your health, and cardio training has proved to be really good for this, reducing number of diseases (heart, blood, bones), I don’t think lifting weigh gives the same results.
    Are you really advertising this book “the 4 hour body”? I followed the amazon link, this book does not seem worth buying (maybe because I’m a woman?). I only kept the best part:

    “You Will Learn (in less than 30 minutes each):
    * How to lose those last 5-10 pounds (or 100+ pounds) with odd combinations of food and safe chemical cocktails.
    * How to prevent fat gain while bingeing (X-mas, holidays, weekends)
    * How to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice
    * How to sleep 2 hours per day and feel fully rested
    * How to produce 15-minute female orgasms
    * How to triple testosterone and double sperm count
    * How to pay for a beach vacation with one hospital visit”

    Is this a joke ?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 22, 2016, 12:26 pm

      You have some good points there Frederique. Tim Ferriss went a bit wild when writing that promotional summary for the 4-hour body, and as a result it sounds extremely fake.

      BUT – he’s a real, no-nonsense, research-oriented person and absolutely not a scammer from what I can tell. You should read that book. The only part that doesn’t really fit in, in my view, is the unusual orgasm techniques. I think that these days (6 years later) he is a bit less hype-oriented.
      Finally, while I continue to agree that cardiovascular fitness is great and essential, I personally feel that “looking good” is a valid goal of exercise.

      For one thing, waist circumference is one of the big disease predictors in men – a large amount stored bodyfat is a sign of something going wrong. Secondly, unless you are perfectly immune to self-consciousness (I am not), you will feel more confident and happy if you are in the most athletic form you can be. You’ll also get more advantages in our judgmental society when looking for a mate or a job.

      Reply
  • Gracie December 22, 2016, 11:59 am

    Awesome post MMM! And timely for me too. I had a baby 4 months ago, and since I’m committed to getting back into shape after pregnancy, I have had to do most of my workouts at home while baby is napping. That means I focus on weight training and pilates instead of cardio, since it’s much easier to do these types of exercises in a small space. It’s good to know that I’m on the right fitness track!

    Reply
  • Val December 22, 2016, 1:45 pm

    This is all good stuff :-) As an exercise physiologist with a nutrition background what you are doing clearly works.

    The one thing I would want everyone to remember is this: there is no ONE right way to eat. One of the main reasons humans have been able to spread all over this little hunk of rock we are on is because we are adaptable. The native Alaskans living on mostly seal can have similar health status to the native Andes mountain dwellers in Peru living on mostly potatoes. The simplest diet plan = don’t eat a lot of processed foods. The details beyond that of % carbs/fat/protein may be somewhat irrelevant actually and most people (note I said most) can adapt to a desired state of health with a variety of different natural diets.

    Spoken from a person who grows 50% of our families food and enjoys a good 10K as much as a set of squats and deadlifts… Cheers!

    Reply
  • Jon December 23, 2016, 9:11 am

    I am jealous of you MMM. I’ve been dying to have my own barbell and a couple of plates for several years now. At first it was a matter of not being able to afford a detached home (or one with a yard) in Calgary; now we’ve packed up and moved to Germany so that dream is on hold yet again.

    It really drives me nuts paying gym dues like I have for the past 5+ years. My routine is all compound barbell stuff….all I need is a bar and some plates! Someday…..

    Reply
  • Charlie December 23, 2016, 9:29 am

    Just to add a bit here, as a person with a 9-to-5 desk job, I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from an activity tracker watch. It has an inactivity alarm which buzzes at me when I’ve gone an hour without enough moving around. Then it shows an ‘inactivity bar’ that won’t go away until I’ve cleared it by getting up and moving around.

    While working, this buzzing is my cue to leave my desk for a quick break. But a “break” means heading to the ground floor and sprinting around the block. It clears the watch’s inactivity bar, provides the benefits of a quick sprint described in the above post, gives an opportunity to think through something, and acts as a natural cup of coffee. Highly recommended.

    Reply
  • Binarymichael December 23, 2016, 1:39 pm

    Great article, thank you for that.

    To add to the reading list along with Taubes that you listed, Doctors Phinney and Volek have been collectively studying the items you mentioned (embrace good fats, hate bad sugars) in this post for a few decades now, and have some excellent science and history (which I think is very fascinating) insight into it, to back it all up. They have a couple books as well written for the benefit of both the public and practicing MDs, and take it a step further by introducing the athletic side of this as well.

    http://www.artandscienceoflowcarb.com/

    Reply
  • Max December 23, 2016, 4:23 pm

    Great article, MMM. I love it! I’m a big advocate for strength-training, the slow-carb diet and the “accept yourself as you are movement”. I, as well as many others in said movement, don’t believe it exists to tell people that body composition change is impossible. We believe we shouldn’t be loathing ourselves just because we’re “out of shape”. Us humans always need to practice self-love. After all, fulfillment comes from within and not from gaining a muscular build. Like yourself, we also strongly believe in the importance of health and fitness. We think the slow-carb diet – which, once again, I’m a big advocate for – isn’t the superior diet. Foods like potato and sourdough bread can help increase longevity. Once again, great article, as usual

    On another note, if I’m not using barbells, I lift using reusable grocery bags with lots of cans inside. I think it’s a decent alternative if people are a bit low on $$$

    Reply

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