Halfway to the Goal: the Straight-Line Progress Tracker

house_of_unoHey, Happy New Year, by the way.

From our vantage point here at the top of 2013, it’s pretty neat to look out over the year ahead and imagine what changes it might bring. Many of us use the January as a time to plan some life improvements, which is a healthy thing to do. But many New Year’s resolutions fizzle out after a few weeks or months, to be forgotten in the din of everyday life until the next January rolls around.

Why does this happen to everyone, including Mr. Money Mustache? It’s probably because most of the changes we want in life are based on changes to our habits. Whether you are are hoping to become a permanently healthy athlete, an influential corporate superstar, or an ass-kicking Mustachian with full control of your finances, the realization of lifestyle dreams usually boils down to little things you do every day, day after day, the results of which build up over time to create surprisingly large changes. Five bucks a day compounds into $26,000 every ten years, and decades roll into additional decades. An extra beer’s worth of calories per day can add up to 18 pounds of surplus bodyfat per year. A few minutes of job-hunting per week can trigger lifelong changes in career (hopefully for the better).

In other words, life results depend on habits, and habits can be extremely hard to change.  On the bright side, positive habits can also stick around with equal tenacity once they are established, which is like grafting a rocket booster onto your butt that adds forward thrust to your lifestyle even when you are not thinking about it.

For example, once you get into the habit of conscious spending, you’ll never want to waste money again. During our recent trip, Mrs. Money Mustache returned from a trip to the overpriced Hawaiian Safeway store across the street, reporting to me that she didn’t get toothpaste because it was all between $7 and $9 per tube. As she described the scene, I joined her in outrage and we both fired a few obscenities in the general direction of Safeway. It was just habit for us, since we practice Grocery Shopping with your Middle Finger. Eventually we remembered that even a $9.00 expense would have absolutely no effect on our financial situation, and we laughed at ourselves for creating such drama. But the habit was already in place, so it was automatic. (Epilogue: I found some toothpaste had gone “on sale” for $1.99 at the same store when I stopped by later that day). A millionaire is made ten bucks at a time, after all.

Similarly, dedicated readers might remember that I’m on a quest to gain 20 pounds by March 21st. Things like that don’t happen by buying a magic diet and exercise program, they only happen by changing habits. I needed to replace some of my strength-losing habits like reading books and typing on this computer too much, with strength-building ones like doing heavy squats and eating nice big meals afterwards. One of the techniques I tried was to create some public pressure for myself with that earlier blog post. And another was to put some unavoidable stuff into my daily routine that would remind me to do the right things every day. As a beginner forming a new habit, I need something simple and convenient.

So I resorted to some classic planning tools: the pencil and a piece of graph paper. Using the grid on the page, I wrote out the days until March 21st along the bottom, and my weight and strength along the left and right sides. I put a dot for my starting point on day 1, another dot for my finishing point in March, and drew a straight line between them. As long as I stay above the straight line as the days pass, I’m on track to reaching the goal. If I fall below, it is a signal to increase the effort. Then I stuck this piece of paper somewhere it could not be missed: right on the fridge door.


It’s ugly, it’s low tech.. and it works for me. By seeing this piece of paper every time I use the fridge, I can keep the fitness project at the front of my mind. And since I have a problem with getting sucked into a distracted la-la land while using computers, using paper and pen lets me make quick updates to the graph and move on.

The results have been good so far. I started the training here in Colorado in November, but was faced with a major test: the 7-week trip to Hawaii that fell right in the middle of the goal period. But because the goal was serious and the line was in place, I knew I could not slack off during that trip and expect to keep up. So I took a few steps, including these:

  • I asked Johnny Aloha if there was a way I could do some weight training during my visit. As luck would have it, he also wanted to gain some strength and was a pretty heavy-duty powerlifter in high school, thus he would be glad to join me in regular workouts.
  • Read the book “Starting Strength” by Mark Ripptoe on the plane ride over. It is an over-the top tome on weightlifting written by a man so passionate on the subject that he can write 60 pages on how to do a squat.
  •  As an active-duty military officer, John also has access to the amazing gym at the nearby marine base, the very same weight room that Barack Obama uses during his Hawaiian vacations. We made several highly productive visits to the gym during my trip.
  • Built a pull-up bar in the back lanai (with the approval of the owners, of course)
  • Set a daily requirement of 25 pullups and 50 pushups for the non-marine-base days (and taped a separate checksheet to the fridge for that too).
  • Set up a little squat/press/deadlift station in their back yard using some old cast iron plumbing pipes and cinder blocks
The triple M cinder block gym. Dress code is flip flops and pajama shorts, membership is $0.

The triple M cinder block gym. Dress code is flip flops and pajama shorts, membership is $0.

The results of all this? So far, so good. I recently crossed 180 lbs in the morning weigh-in, which means I am up 15 pounds. Leg and chest measurements have grown by 1.5 inches, and fortunately the belly has not. On the other hand, my bench press strength is not increasing as quickly as the straight line. It has been stubborn, the weights kept feeling heavy, and I was letting too much time pass between workouts. So I know I need to speed up progress in that department.  After a bit of consulting with some extremely strong dudes, I made these changes upon returning from Hawaii:

  • Increasing the frequency of workouts (each area now gets worked twice per week instead of once)
  • Adding creatine and protein supplements to my diet, to help compensate for the fact that I don’t eat meat as often as most weight-trainers (an MMM reader works at that Swanson company and helped turn me on to their stuff).

Just this week, I easily set a lifetime deadlifting record and a multi-year bench pressing record. So progress has returned. Will I hit all the goals before March 21st? I definitely think it is possible. Heck, even if the challenge were to end right now, I’ve already won – I have worked harder, gained fitness and strength, and learned a whole bunch about the process.

The tricky part of a long-term goal is knowing whether or not you are on track. With a long deadline, it’s easy to fool yourself into complacency and forget about the goal, until it’s too late. Some motivational experts advise you to break it down into smaller goals, which is exactly what the straight-line method does for me: every day a new expectation is set to keep ahead of it. Whether you’re gaining or losing weight, reducing spending or amassing a ‘stash that will make you financially independent in five years, following a line like this is one way to make the progress concrete and measurable.

So Happy habit-building to you too. I’ve just re-read all the comments on the earlier article where readers committed to achieving new things this year. How are you doing with your own projects? Cynthia? Tara? Holly with the Club Med preparations or Nathan with the one-armed pullup?

Since I like the straight-line program so much, I’m starting another one: 100 weekdays to get the Mr. Money Mustache BOOK done, as so far the progress has been minimal. One article a day (minimum), rewriting each of the best 100 posts to fit and flow into a book. First I’ll draw the graph, then I will share the goal when it is formalized. It will be a scary and exciting commitment.

  • TicoHombre January 23, 2013, 6:11 am

    I love those barbells!!!! I was working out in while living in Costa Rica using a bookbag filled with books for dumbells. (Incidentally, I’ve got the 20 lbs your looking for…if you don’t mind the higher composition of 100% fat).

    I also like your graph. It looks almost like the one I developed a few weeks ago to track my rental properties payoff over the next 42 months. It’s big and ugly and motivating!

    Thanks for the continuing inspiration!

    • stagleton February 6, 2013, 12:37 pm

      haha, yeah cinderblocks are badass.

  • Mrs EconoWiser January 23, 2013, 6:16 am

    I finally decided to buy a bike trailer so I searched the Dutch version of Craigslist and found a nice cargo version. My new habit will be using that bike trailer and my bike to go grocery shopping instead of using the car. Thanks MMM!

  • Ross January 23, 2013, 6:18 am

    Wow, this is certainly one if the best uses of graph paper I’ve ever seen! I think I need to draw my own graph. Im up from 10 pulps to 15, but I seem to have hit a plateau. I guess I just need a little more motivation to get to 20!

    • Uncephalized January 23, 2013, 8:57 am

      Ross: try adding some weight to your pull ups (just 5 lbs or so makes a big difference). Obtain or make a weight belt–a solid plastic milk or juice jug tied to your belt works pretty well, and 1 quart or liter of water weighs about 2 lbs. Adding the extra resistance can help you break through the plateau in ways just trying to do more reps sometimes won’t. Do them weighted for a few weeks and then try again without the weight and I bet you see your reps go up. :-)

  • Matt b January 23, 2013, 6:19 am

    Yet another solid mmm article. Thanks for inspiration as always. Ironically I lost 15 lbs last year thanks to this blog. Wasn’t critical for me to lose the weight, but the feeling of setting and accomplishing the goal was. The quick morning jogs like I’m bout to do were mostly all it took. On to the next goals!

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies January 23, 2013, 6:19 am

    Mr. PoP loves the Starting Strength book, as well.

    Straight line progress is an easy measurement, but not always mentally productive if you have get an injury that you need to recover from. I had a really frustrating couple of weeks when I had to stop running and not only didn’t make progress, but fell backwards in my running goals. Straight line measurements were driving me nuts, and I had to cut myself a little slack because of it.

    • Aaron January 23, 2013, 10:23 am

      I first got turned onto Starting Strength about a year ago. I started the program not too long afterward, and made some great progress. Then I started to feel some actual pain during some of my squats, so I started cutting back a bit. I fell off after having 2 months of good progress. I later started up again, and kept it going for a bit, then stopped for a bit when graduate school got really busy.

      I’ve been making good progress again, and it is funny how I’m blowing past previous plateaus. This time around I’m more concerned about keeping my form good, instead of sacrificing it to try to just move up to the next 5lbs on the bar. My goal is to just get stronger, not a certain weight by a certain date like it used to be. So if I’m stuck at the same weight for awhile, so be it (though I still plan on following the SS program’s recommendation that you scale back on the wait if you plateau for too long).

      My two biggest concerns for form now are for my presses and power cleans. I think I’ve worked through what I need to get the squats and deadlifts downn. That whole 1st pull, 2nd pull thing on power cleans kind of gets me. I think I pull with my arms too much, when it is supposed to be more of a jump and shoulder shrug and then just getting under the weight. But I’m trying!

  • Truelove January 23, 2013, 6:21 am

    Great post and chart. This is a fabulous idea for any goal, whether physical or financial. After seven years of university, paying off my student was less than thrilling and difficult to stay disciplined. Looking back I wish I would have put a chart on my fridge for encouragement, to keep motivated and as a daily reminder to not sucumb to the temptation of frivolous spening. I will be sure to use this technique for future goals.

    PS. Love the board and coin logo.

  • Matt January 23, 2013, 6:25 am

    Congrats on getting nearer your target. In my case, i’m no lighter than I was, but my wasteline has definitely come in a bit. Cutting back the calories has definitely helped over the last 2 weeks, but I really can;t stop thinking about food. Thinking about the dosh I’ve saved helps though…

  • Mr 1500 January 23, 2013, 6:47 am

    I love giving personal finance books as graduation gifts and eagerly wait to see what you come up with.

    • Headed Home January 23, 2013, 7:26 am

      Yeah, the MMM Book will be my #1 gift to everybody when you publish it. Can’t wait for you to finish! Good luck.

      • Rob aka Captain and Mrs Slow January 26, 2013, 12:55 pm

        One of the best books I ever read was Millioniare Teacher by Andrew Hallam, I’ve given out about 10 copies and everyone has raved about it. Highly recommended

  • 3DMARDIV January 23, 2013, 6:54 am

    Be careful with Creatine. While it is a good short term booster, unless workouts are frequent and of increasing difficulty you will notice a plateau and possibly a slight downward movement beginning somewhere between month 2 and 3 after starting its use. Protein powder never hurts though (I am sure you already drink the needed fluids for this).
    Good luck!

  • KC January 23, 2013, 6:54 am

    Absolutely love the dress code.

  • D. Wolf January 23, 2013, 6:56 am

    Read over the “Raw Bench Series” found on this page:


    Just so you can double check your technique on the bench press; might help you get over the hump. There’s also a great series on the raw squat as well.

    “Join the fight against Muscle Atrophy!”

  • Graeme January 23, 2013, 6:57 am

    Great post. I do like the idea of using a line to track progress, but depending on what you’re tracking, linear progress doesn’t happen very often.

    For example, as a guitarist, I might want to improve my maximum speed playing a particular technique. However, for whatever reason, sometimes I’ll just “plateau” for quite a period of time before having a breakthrough. So the line is less linear and more of a flat line, then a sudden jump, then another flat portion, then another jump, etc.

    Of course, as long as one is aware of the fact that some progress is non-linear, we can still put our progress on a sheet with that straight line and compare our actual progress to it. We just can’t let the plateaus and times we might be below the straight line diminish our resolve!

    • KP January 23, 2013, 10:09 am

      When I’m graphing a skill that is not straight line, I use the straight line graph to graph my input rather, and track output less frequently and on a different scale on the chart. The straight line represented a minimum of 3 hours a week working on speed of play – that was my goal, that was my graph. Every 3-4 weeks or so, I’d test with a metronome to see what the max speed I could play at was (scales, or chosen song), and record that – generally testing that far apart did yield an upward improvement. If it didn’t – I went in search of new drills – like playing my fast songs stacato instead of legato…

  • Teacherman January 23, 2013, 7:04 am

    The straight-line progress tracker is a great tool! I love using plain old pencil and paper for things like this. I’m going to make my own to track my workout goals as well as my work towards FI.

    P.S. Can’t wait for the book!

  • Nelly11 January 23, 2013, 7:45 am

    Congrats on your goal & timeline for the book. It is going to be great and i look forward to its release!

    p.s. that cinderblock squat looks dangerous as hell if one of those blocks slide, but good for you. if you pulled it off, you pulled it off. $0 like you said. i used to have a similar bench press at work with milk cartons and a large metal tube.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 23, 2013, 9:52 am

      Thanks! If you click the pic and see the bigger version, you will notice the huge bulky iron fittings on each side of that squat bar.. so it is actually a bit difficult to add or remove cinder blocks to change the weight. It’s a 2″ wrought iron/galvanized pipe from the 1960s with thick walls, so the bar and fittings alone weigh about 40 lbs. We cut it out of their house when doing a repair of another part of their plumbing.

  • Steven Kern January 23, 2013, 8:03 am

    I’m curious, will the MMM book contain the article about not buying books and using the library? When I initially read it I thought to myself “that’s one book I have to own” only to have my mortgage balance come straight back to the front of my mind. Perhaps I will check it out at my local library when it is available.

    • Gerard January 23, 2013, 8:19 am

      We could all ask our local libraries to stock it when it comes out. Librarians like getting that kind of input, and a lot of genre authors (e.g., detective novels) apparently earn most of their money from library sales.

      • Mr. Money Mustache January 23, 2013, 10:23 am

        Wow, sounds like this book will be a hit! It will only be 5 bucks, because I think all media items should be 5 dollars or less.

        I was initially assuming everyone would want only an e-book, but I can see that paper is going to happen too, because of all this gift-giving talk :-)

        • mike crosby January 23, 2013, 10:50 am

          Kindle is for me.

          Along with MMM, Kindle Buffet is in my reader. They send me daily a list of around 25 free books.

          Most of all my books are free, but a few I pay for that will be in my library permanently. MMMs book will be one of them.

          Also will be a nice way to say thank you to MMM for all his time writing excellent posts.

          • Jimbo January 23, 2013, 11:13 am

            Of course I will buy it also even if it is not free, I was merely suggesting giving it away for maximum exposure (and long term payback).

            I did not mean to say that making this book will be effortless and that aforementioned effort does not merit retribution.

            So do charge money for it if it is what you want. ;-)

        • cynthia January 24, 2013, 1:54 am

          Hi MMM,
          about the book publishing, as someone with experience in this area, I would strongly encourage you NOT to self publish. Tons of people try to do this, but what they dont realize is that all of the distribution networks for books are closed to them (except of course for your blog readers). these authors think “I’ll just publish the book and put it on the web and people will find it.” Nothing could be further from the truth!

          the other thing is that publishers have _experience_; they know what covers will sell and which won’t, which title will work or not, etc. It is a truism in the publishing industry that the people who are the worst at writing back cover copy, catalogue descriptions, or generally explaining what a book is about are the authors! They are too close to it.

          Besides, with your blog readership/ page views, it will be easy to find a publisher who is good and who will give you a nice big cut.

          make sure also to get a publisher who is specialised in the same kind of books–they have all the right contacts in the media for reviews etc!

          You probably already know all this as you are marketing savvy, but if you want to chat about it, I’d be happy to try to repay the mighty MMM any way I can!

          • Mr. Money Mustache January 24, 2013, 11:41 am

            Thanks Cynthia!

            While I appreciate the insider’s advice, I’m firmly in the self-publishing camp and I believe it is the right way for the industry in the future: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/12/you-should-self-publish.html

            It’s perfect for me: I’m mostly making the book to learn about publishing and share the experience for other self-publishers. I don’t care about distribution channels or the number of sales or the amount of income, but I do care about learning about how things work. The Internet is already a universal distribution channel – it reaches 2 billion people at a cost of almost zero dollars per person!

            In the era of the Internet, any sort of agents, record labels, or gatekeepers to distribution are becoming obsolete, and I want to help squash them further. Just look at this blog: I didn’t have to ask for permission to write it, no editor tells me what I can and cannot write, and yet it already creates income that could easily support a family. Information Anarchy!


            • cynthia January 25, 2013, 12:15 am

              I hear you and understand! I used to think the same thing before I got inside the industry! And I have had my own work published and had copyeditors do evil things to it–so I hear y’a brother! And I respect your decision and admire your courage and energy as always! But just hear me out on a few points…then I’ll stop, promise.

              I know you’re not in it to make money, I was referring to ‘sales’ as in ‘spreading the gospel further and wider,’ which is the goal of MMM, no? :)

              And sure, the internet does wonders, but there are two problems that remain: 1. it is increasingly harder to rise above the noise and be heard, and more importantly 2. extreme niche marketing–people only end up talking to like-minded people. So it’s harder to reach out to others.
              And FYI, industry insider info: what gets people to buy a book are: independent book reviews and the cover.

              Moreover, I dont think publishers are some evil group of guys trying to dictate what people can write. (I have no idea about music labels, however). A good copyeditor/publisher should never change style or content, just help someone express what they are trying to say better. I have yet to see a good quality self-published book–including my DH’s! (sorry love).

              My point was that they have _experience_. As an engineer, would you be all for letting a newbie walk in the door, with zero experience, having read a few books and articles, and let him design your network architecture? He might do it, but the quality would be iffy at best. The learning curve would be huge. He’d waste lots of time and energy re-doing things. Everyone recognizes that you need lots of knowledge and experience to be a doctor or an engineer, but no one realizes that it is the same with language or history or non-technical pursuits.

              What usually happens if someone has any success in self-publishing, is that they THEN go to a publisher for the second edition, who helps them clean it up and increase the quality and get it out further.

              Voila, that’s my two cents! But I’ll support you wherever you go!

            • Ladywell January 29, 2013, 3:53 am

              Hi MMM.

              I’m a professional editor and book designer; have worked for two of the Big Six and another multinational so far, as well as a couple of small publishers and some years freelance. If you need a hand with anything feel free to give me a shout. :)

        • Anna January 24, 2013, 7:32 am

          For the ebook, will you please consider Kobo as well as Amazon? The Kobo ereaders and apps work well in a lot of countries, which cannot be said for the Kindle!

        • Trudy February 2, 2013, 2:49 pm

          And because of the library idea!

  • Johnny Moneyseed January 23, 2013, 8:21 am

    My goal is to get 100 blog subscribers or 10,000 page views by Summer. I’m inspired! Thanks man!

    • Ace January 23, 2013, 8:39 am

      Subscribed via RSS, hopefully that counts! Good luck on your new blog and I look forward to more posts.

  • Bryallen @ The Frugal Graduate January 23, 2013, 8:21 am

    Well done MMM! I really like the continuous increase of your goals over time. It is definitely all too easy to think “I’ll do better next week”. I need to lose some weight, rather than gaining, so I’ll make a chart going in the opposite direction tonight!

    Interested to hear about your book too!

  • Jimbo January 23, 2013, 8:24 am

    Woohoo, an MMM book! Talk about great news. I hope it will be available as an ebook, and I will put forth the suggestion that it should be free! (at least in ebook format).

    Why, you say? Excellent question!

    Because this is the type of book that has the potential to change many lives, and changing of lives should be the main objective. By being free, it would reach a greater audience, shortly achieving cult-book status in the personal finance realm. Which would translate into more exposure, more lives changed, and a Hollywood movie deal.

    No but seriously, more exposure might be a greater objective than income on this, I feel.

    But then again, I would buy your book even if it wasn’t free (using free reward points from Amazon, though…)

    Keep up the good work, MMM!

  • Andrew January 23, 2013, 8:26 am

    To Nathan: Are you keeping up with your one armed pull-ups? I’m right there with you, but my timeline’s a little longer since I have to lose 30 lb first and seriously improve my grip :(

    • Nathan January 25, 2013, 9:26 am

      I’m making progress, but it’s been hard to track with a yes/no thing like a one-arm pullup. I like the straight-line concept, and I think I could make that work. I read that 3 reps with 2/3 body weight added is a good sign, so I’ll build a line from the weight I can currently rep 3x up to 2/3 body weight, and see if I’m progressing roughly on track. Of course I need to get something more effective than milk jugs of water in a backpack. Good point about the grip, Andrew–I’m working that during the day sitting at my desk.

      • Andrew January 28, 2013, 10:48 am

        That’s a good idea for a straight line metric. I’ll go fiddle with my spreadsheet to put it in there…

        As for added weight, I have a (pre-Mustachian) 45 lb weight vest which makes weighted pull ups as comfortable as they can be. I’ve put another ~50 lb of (pre-Mustachian) dumbbells in a backpack to add more weight, but I’ve found that having the weight so unevenly distributed causes terrible back pain at bedtime. I think the right answer is to get one of those weight belts you attach plates to so that the extra weight hangs directly below (but buying more equipment isn’t Mustachian is it? Maybe we can replace the plates with cinder blocks…)

  • Jarvis January 23, 2013, 8:34 am

    I’m very close on the goal of a 250lb clean & jerk.

    I successfully lifted 245lb just prior to christmas, then had a bit of regression while visiting family. In January I’ve been hitting it very hard in my abandoned warehouse gym (membership also $0). I should have video of a successful lift by March 21.

  • Cristian January 23, 2013, 8:39 am

    When you’ll launch that ebook I’m gona be like: “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” :)

  • Kenny January 23, 2013, 8:55 am

    Fantastic gym! I totally dig the attire :P

    New reader signing in, thanks for the fabulous writing.

  • Emily Allred January 23, 2013, 9:14 am

    Hooray, book! I will probably buy it, though it is quite the un-Mustachian thing to do, seeing as how I can follow your site for free. I guess I just like you that much. Also the book will probably easier to navigate than the site, for easy reference.

    I second the request for an ebook version. ‘Tis cheaper for the user and saves paper.

  • Jessica January 23, 2013, 9:17 am

    I had stated my goal was to reach 145 lbs from a starting weight of 171.5. I’ve been tracking it on an app and I am happy to say I am currently at 150.7, 20.8lbs down and 5.7 to go. Unfortunately (for my goal only), I found out a week ago that I’m pregnant. We are very excited and had actually been trying but doctors generally frown upon “dieting” while pregnant unless you are overweight. Lucky (?) for me I tend to have very bad all day sickness that should kick in a week from now that will more than likely shoot me right past my weight loss goal. Also, a lot of the eating habits I’ve developed in the past few months have stuck so I still seem to be losing despite not really trying.

    My new goal to is to gain back no more than the recommended 25lbs instead of the 37 I gained in my last pregnancy :)

  • Johnny January 23, 2013, 9:44 am

    A freaking MMM book?! Can’t wait to see it!

    That barbell is incredible. I could afford to gain 15-20 lbs., as well. I’ve tried a little bit of everything and the only thing that has worked so far is having a pregnant wife. :) And that’s not the good kind of weight. You’ve motivated me to get back on that horse and make a concerted effort to try again. I think my metabolism has normalized now that I might actually be able to make some progress.

  • Chris January 23, 2013, 10:02 am

    Looking forward to the book! I’ll happily pay a modest fee in return for the effort you put into it!

  • Kevin C January 23, 2013, 10:07 am

    Hey MMM, great article and I love the positivity. I have some experience in bodybuilding, and I’m like to offer some of my humble advice. In the simplest way, you’re either getting bigger or smaller…ie you’re either taking in more or less calories than you’re burning. So if you’re goal is to grow, you should worry less about the waistline and focus more on getting in the calories you need. In other words, you should focus less on “what” you’re eating vs. “how much” you’re eating. A friendly neighbor offers some homemade pie with a cookie? Go to town! After all you’re in “bulking” mode. Losing fat is far, far easier than gaining muscle. Particularly for an avid cyclist like you losing bodyfat should be a breeze especially if you have muscle mass consuming those pesky calories.

    As far as bench press, I feel like the most important factor by far is the form. Once you have the proper form and technique, you’ll start stacking plates on like doughnuts. As you lay down you should tense your back, and squeeze your shoulder blades together to spread the chest, and plant your heals to tense your quads and make sure your lower back is slightly off the bench. When you finish the set, you should not only be wimpering in pain from your pecs, but you should feel it in your quads. Avoid going all the way up, as that primarily stresses the tri’s. One of the best articles I’ve ever read on benching is


    PS. Ignore the meathead theme, its very informative

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 23, 2013, 10:16 am

      Thanks Kevin! I got similar advice from Mark Rippetoe and I’m all for it.

      I have definitely been following the “eat anything” advice and finding it works. Specifically, right after a giant workout (especially squats/deadlifts), I will eat anything and everything I can. Peanut butter sandwiches? Cheesecake? Pumpkin pie? Sounds like a great dessert to the plate of 6 eggs with avocados for lunch! The feast continues for about 24-36 hours afterwards, then my appetite drops to normal. And presto, about 1-2 pounds of weight has been added.

      This massive pig-out works really well, and I never really did it before starting this program. If I try it in the absence of a giant workout, it goes straight to the belly. After a workout though, it vanishes into steam and pound or so of muscle if I’m lucky.

      I agree with you that fat loss is easier than muscle gain, so I’m trying not to err on the side of under-eating.

      • Aaron January 23, 2013, 10:32 am

        Also you can check out the Leangains protocol. He doesn’t push Paleo/Primal (though I follow that protocol and it is totally compatible). A big part of it is Intermittent Fasting. The idea being that you don’t eat for about 16 hours, work out fasted (take some BCAA’s beforehand) and then break your fast after your workout with a big meal. You can then eat for the next 8 hours, but then stop again for your 16 hour window. On workout days you consume more calories, and higher carbs. On break days it is a little bit lower calories, and you want a higher percentage of fat. You still can eat a ton of calories, you just change the window of when you do it. So you still have everything you need to build the muscle, but during your fast your body will hit your fat stores to get the energy it needs.

        If you follow Primal eating habits, you should be a fat burner instead of a carb burner, so you don’t suffer from the “low blood sugar” that most people do, so it makes it easier. I know you follow Mark’s Daily Apple. In a recent update for one of his success stories, Timothy talks about how he has used Leangains.

      • Kevin C January 23, 2013, 10:36 am

        Yeah! You’re on the right track. Soon your chest will be rising like a loaf of bread. Give some weight gainer shakes a shot!

      • Mr 1500 January 24, 2013, 6:31 am

        Is it really possible to gain a pound+ of muscle with just one workout?

        I like Timothy Ferriss, but one of the things that turned me off about his “4 Hour Workout” book was that he claimed to make enormous muscle gains (20+ pounds in a month I think). It sounded ridiculous.

        However, if you say you can put on 1-2 pounds with just one workout, perhaps there is some credence to the claim.

        • Mr. Money Mustache January 24, 2013, 11:30 am

          Yes, believe it or not I DO maintain that 1-2 pounds assertion and I think that Tim’s experiment is completely accurate.

          But ther are some qualifications to it: people who are already well-trained will see decreasing results as they get towards their genetic potential. In my case, I have been much bigger in the past (200+ pounds), so I’m re-gaining muscle from a point well below my potential – I am in the “wimpy beginner’s quick gains” stage.

          On top of that, people who have lifted heavy things in the past still have some neuromuscular skill in making their muscles work hard.. meaning it can be easier to re-gain strength and weight rather than build it for the first time.

          Finally, I’m a bit taller and more calorie-intensive than average so the numbers fluctuate more quickly. I change by 5 pounds between morning and night, go down 10 pounds after a week of heavy carpentry and light eating, and re-gain quickly with workouts and heavy eating. On a lazy blogging day I hardly need to eat anything but a big bike ride or lifting session can trigger an immediate need for 4000 extra calories.

  • Aaron January 23, 2013, 10:15 am

    My son told me the other day that New Year’s resolutions are “stupid”. I think this is rather funny, since he is only 11. He says that people will just say they want to lose weight, go on a diet for a few days or weeks, but then give up and go back to their old ways.

    I told him I sort of agree with him. I’ve always had the theory that if you want to do something, if you have a goal for it and you decide you want to do it, there is no need to wait for a specific date. I usually start my New Year’s resolution (if I have one) in November. But I told him that sometimes the New Year’s resolution can be a good thing. It might just be the catalyst, the excuse, for someone to start a good habit. As long as they view it as a formation of a new habit, and not just a goal they need to reach and can go back to their old ways afterwards, then I think it can be a good thing that doesn’t end in disappointment.

  • CL January 23, 2013, 10:23 am

    I love how you track your progress. It reminds me of The Hacker’s Diet: http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/, where you weigh yourself every day. It was created by the guy who founded AutoDesk. I’m glad to see that you’ve progressed towards your goal and, as always, serve as an example to all of the Mustachians that we can achieve what we want to.

  • Spring January 23, 2013, 10:25 am

    Please book in ebook format, for those of us in the UK and elsewhere getting hold of books from the USA can be expensive. Also ebooks take up no space!

  • Jason January 23, 2013, 10:33 am

    The scrap yard I occasionally take metal to sells really, really cheap steel weight lifting weights. Not that the cinder blocks aren’t just as effective.

  • Simple Science Fitness January 23, 2013, 11:31 am

    Nice work on your progress! I’ve been following this blog over the last week and on a personal level, I share a lot of your ideals. I want to share with you my website I’ve learned over the years in regards to fitness and nutrition, which is closely aligned with your goals. Thanks for improving my life with your generosity, and I hope in some ways, I can help improve yours.

  • Samantha January 23, 2013, 11:43 am

    I am also right on track with my mortgage goal. Maybe even a bit ahead: we plan on having half of it paid down by the end of February. Hoping to have it all paid off by the end of 2014. That’s a bit ambitious, but who knows.

  • Matt January 23, 2013, 12:11 pm

    Mark Rippetoe definitely frowns on lifting in no- or open-toe shoes. ;)

    • Steve January 23, 2013, 1:04 pm

      I agree.

      Safe footwear is as important as your safety goggles.

      Do you renovate without them?

      • Mr. Money Mustache January 23, 2013, 1:53 pm

        Who invited these Safety Nannybots onto the Mr. Money Mustache comments section? ;-)

        I’m all for appropriate safety measures. But I enjoy a little freedom and risk from time to time as well. If you like more safety than me, by all means protect yourself.

        In Hawaii, nobody wears shoes, and flip-flops are what you wear for special occasions or when the conditions are too harsh for bare feet. Once I was done with framing, I actually did many days of construction in bare feet. ‘Twas fun.

        I do use safety glasses when cutting things, and earplugs too.

        • TheHeadHunter January 23, 2013, 9:54 pm

          Ever watch Pumping Iron? Arnold never even wore flip flops in the gym. I’m not saying that’s how he became a 7 time Mr. Olympia… but that’s 7 more first place finishes than everyone on this site.

          btw, I like the Fu-Manchu too, that’s exactly the type of facial hair one would expect from a Mr. Money Mustache.

        • Matt F January 25, 2013, 6:47 am

          Yeah, I agree with TheHeadHunter, way better for your form to lift in bare feet. Most powerlifters lift in chuck taylors because gyms dont allow you to go barefeet and chucktaylors are basically just a really hard piece of rubber. If you squat or deadlift real weight in shoes with a significant arch, the extra weight will actually compress the cushioning in the shoe and mess up your stability which can really fuck up your knees. I’ve blown out a nike air shoe deadlifting only ~350 pounds before I switched over to chucks and nike frees. Besides, you drop a plate on your foot you are screwed no matter what you are wearing.

          (One exception is for squats, where powerlifters will wear squatting shoes that have a wedge made of wood to get heel elevation which allows for heavier lifts while getting deep. The wood heel prevents the compression problem, but these are definitely not mustachian, expensive and good for only one thing)

    • GE Miller January 26, 2013, 7:06 am

      Well, with a name like Rip “Toe”, that should go without saying.

  • Chelsea G January 23, 2013, 12:38 pm

    Way to go, MMM!

    I’m also on the ebook boat – save some space and even a tree or two :-)

  • cynthia January 23, 2013, 12:49 pm

    I am impressed with you! on so many levels.

    Having worked in the book publishing industry–definitely go for a paper version, for gift giving, beach, and quick airport buys.

    As for my goal, well, I’ve started eating say 3/4 primally thanks to your Mark Sisson post! More energy, but No Weight Change whatsoever so far! but fit into clothes better. just belly fat from the 40s that doesnt budge. And after 2 years of trying, now it feels like it will never happen because previous attempts haven’t worked…nasty self-reinforcing mind game with yourself.

    Making the goal public DID help amazingly, when out with friends and tempted by dessert, or tired and susceptible to marketing for treats, JUST SAY NO. So thank you for that opportunity!

    I just dont like exercise, and just cannot get obsessed about workout schedules like some people I read about. After moving to France, I have been seriously converted to their way of enjoying the moment, and to me that does not involve squats! I can’t beat myself into doing it, then I just rebel. I know, it’s crappy and whiny.

    I do walk, take public transportation, never drive. I’m good with outdoor things, walking, hiking, swimming in the ocean–but when it’s cold and rainy, I suck and the motivation doesnt come. I just want to sleep!
    (it’s true that lifetime sleep disorder has sapped my energy)

    I’ll try the paper and pen line chart ( I love low tech), but any other specific suggestions on how not to hate exercise would be welcome!

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 23, 2013, 1:57 pm

      Try hanging out with someone who loves doing squats. They don’t sound fun, but oddly enough, they really are. Mrs. MM is a pretty strong lady these days, and she has gone from a never-squatter to a more-than-bodyweight one pretty quickly.

      The reason it is worth the effort is that it is a MAGICAL EXERCISE. I mean, insanely powerful in how quickly it can transform your body. It builds so many major muscles, and such important ones, that I would say it is essential that every person in the world with the physical capability do do so, should do squats. And love it.

      • cynthia January 24, 2013, 1:40 am

        thanks! it’s a good idea–my only sucessful attempts at exercise have always come when I had an ‘exercise buddy.’

        And I’ll draw inspiration from Mrs. MMM :)

        I’ll keep you posted!

      • Shandi76 January 24, 2013, 2:23 pm

        I’d really appreciate a post from Mrs MM about her Cross Fit experiences and what she did to go from regular to very strong.

        I’ve been doing CF for 5 months and have hit a bit of a plateau and need advice on how to push through it. I see other people who have joined after me make much faster gains, but they are all young men. A female perspective would really help.

      • cynthia January 25, 2013, 12:21 am

        Twenty chair-assisted squats this morning, after some yoga sun salutations–all thanks to you!

    • Aaron January 23, 2013, 4:08 pm

      Funny story about that same post… it brought me to MMM! I’ve been a follower of the Primal lifestyle for coming on two years now. During my normal google search for “Mark’s Daily Apple” I saw this post that said “Mr Money Mustache vs Mark’s Daily Apple”. I clicked the link and am very glad I did so.

      I think the same will be true for you about adopting the Primal Blueprint.

      Oh, and just so you know, the scale really doesn’t mean much. There are many, many success stories about people that didn’t move much on the scale, but totally changed their body composition (and are healthier). Just view it as a lifestyle, not a diet. View your little cheats here and there as things that are just temporarily interrupting your normal lifestyle, not as a sign that you’ve failed and should give up. You only truly fail when you give up, up until then it’s just a temporary setback.

      • cynthia January 24, 2013, 1:44 am

        Hi Aaron!

        thanks for your comment–very good ideas. I agree about not being fixated on the scale–my one attempt at gym membership resulted in INCREASING the weight from building muscle. It’s getting rid of what jiggles, visceral fat in the abdomen and strength. My only challenge with Primal is a lifelong distaste for meat/animals! So Im doing fish, cheese, nuts, eggs.

        I like your way of seeing it as temporary interruption rather than failure–as it totally gets you out of the negative mental feedback.

  • BC January 23, 2013, 1:21 pm

    This month I have been imagining in detail what it’s going to be like reaching my financial goals this year. Basically I imagine that my DH and I are at the bank applying for our first mortgage. We’re debt-free with a checking account stuffed with cash for a huge down payment on our first home. It might sound really mundane, but it’s been very motivating, imagining this afternoon that represents what has been a years long road of getting our degrees, establishing our careers, starting our family, and tidying up our finances. It quiets the impatient side of me that wants to stop renting now and gives me new determination to kick butt this year. I’ve heard that athletes do the same thing: they envision their wins in great detail.

  • Kenoryn January 23, 2013, 1:54 pm

    MMM, are you planning on self-publishing the book and distributing it yourself? That would allow you to set your own format, prices etc. But if not, I would suggest you start by querying agents about the concept – with their experience they could probably give you lots of useful information about what publishers are looking for and considerations for format, length, style etc. that could save you grief in the revisions department compared to querying a final product later.

  • Aloysa @ My Broken Coin January 23, 2013, 3:03 pm

    I have to be honest. I love when some new resolutions fade away, especially when it comes to our gym. January is a nightmare (too many people in one confined space). March is better. April comes, and we can breathe again! :)
    Loved that photo of a dead lift. Or was it a squat? Whatever that was, it was impressive.

  • My Financial Independence Journey January 23, 2013, 3:58 pm

    I was actually wondering if you would miss your work out goal due to all the time that you spent in Hawaii. Clearly, you’ve been kicking ass. Good job.

    I’m a big believer in tracking my progress for goals. It’s helped me reach a number of goals from fitness to finance. There usually comes a point after a while where even though I’m doing everything that I said I would, I’ve stopped progressing. Then I’m stuck back at the drawing board trying to figure out how to break past some plateau or another.

  • Tara January 23, 2013, 4:03 pm

    Hey, thanks for asking about me, MMM! I am totally on track to meet my $50,000 goal by June 1st. So far I am at $39,000 and still socking away the money via auto-deductions from my paycheck biweekly. Barring a total disaster I should make it on time and on budget. :-)

    Now my additional goal is to get in 30 minutes of exercise a day. I have been majorly wimping out on exercise and feel like I need that extra boost to get out there and get healthier. I need to eat more protein and do a whole lot more pushups and squats.

  • nicoleandmaggie January 23, 2013, 4:31 pm

    Completely unrelated to your post (yay on the book and good luck on the weightlifting)… but…

    This semester we’ve noticed quite a few fancy moustaches all over campus, and when we went into the city, the Whole Foods had several moustachioed gentlemen. Are you starting a movement in facial hirsuteness?

  • Chen Zhaowei January 23, 2013, 5:00 pm

    You should write some posts about getting your book published especially if it’s going to be available in paper form. I think a lot of people have that pet novel or book of theirs that would greatly benefit from your how-to guides.

  • TrickiVicki January 23, 2013, 7:53 pm

    Have you had a chance to look through the “The 4 Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss? It has many interesting shortcuts for adding maximum muscle mass for the least amount of effort/cost. Some of the ideas from the book might really speed along your progress. I believe there are lots of vlogs on youtube with people showing their progress, so it must work. Good luck!

  • Frances January 23, 2013, 8:22 pm

    I was going to comment about how much I loved that you lift weights in thongs.. Then I remember Americans have a very different idea about what thongs means ;-) Haha. So.. I love that you exercise in ‘flip flops’!

  • Mike Stankavich January 23, 2013, 8:26 pm

    Love the direction you are going both with the strength training and the squats. I agree with many of the commentators that noted that progress is often non-linear. I recently found a really nice online tracker that addresses both tracking noisy data and overcoming behavioral tendencies toward short term versus long term. It works equally well for either financial or fitness goals. Have a look at http://beeminder.com. I’ll put my money where my mouth is – see https://www.beeminder.com/miks2u/goals/weight for this year’s weight loss goal. And yes, my other two goals will be getting reset. I got overly ambitious at the start of the year.

    • Mike Stankavich January 23, 2013, 8:29 pm

      In case it isn’t obvious, note that the weight goal is in kg, not pounds.

  • Mortgage Mutilator @ Mutilate The Mortgage January 23, 2013, 9:54 pm

    Hey MMM,
    Be careful regarding the “One hour a day (minimum)” writing demand. It can sometimes not work out too well. I found when writing my book that setting a minimum AMOUNT I wrote (1500 words+) was a better goal. That way I might not write everyday, but when I did I focussed and made sure I stayed at it until there was a decent amount on the page.

    Cal Newport actually just wrote a great piece on this exact topic a week ago too:


    Awesome work on the muscle gaining though!

  • cynthia January 24, 2013, 1:45 am


  • Kendall Frederick January 24, 2013, 7:10 am

    Good update! I’m with you on avoiding distraction and over-complication by low tech tracking. As an engineer, I can analyze endlessly and do nothing. Trying to fix that these days by just doing the Next Thing..whatever that is.

  • George January 24, 2013, 10:02 am

    Thanks for the inspiring post, although things are going great for me this year, according to my spreadsheet we are due to have the mortgage paid off by Dec 9, 2013 and bring us one step closer to FI; however, I have to admit I am slacking a bit in the evenings;

    I am working on a building a loft in the garage increase storage space; I have been making process slowly, I still need to put some more reenforcement 2x4s in, re-reroute another 14-3 wire and get more plywood from the lumber store; I have been using the cold winter weather and regular work as an excuse, instead I am resorting to drinking too much in the evenings and watch netflix; I got to get some of that graph paper and make a chart, thats a cool idea

    As far as your weightlifting goes and improving your bench press, if I remember from my hardcore weightlifting days, what you need to do is vary up the exercise routine

    For example, I assume you are struggling in your flat bench press; you need to start varying up the angles and technique; in one session concentrate on incline bench presses; on another concentrate on declines; also switch between barbell and free weights; switch the order of the exercises so that when you are strongest first thing in your workout, you are starting with a different exercise each time; I don’t know exactly why this works, but doing different versions of the bench press in turn actually improves your flat bench press; it probably has to do something with one area of your muscles being weaker than the rest; by approaching it your lifting at different angles you can strength up the weakest point, and thus improve your weight


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