P90X phase 1 workouts, reviewed

Looking around the internet, I’ve noticed that very few “review” sites actually drill down into the workouts themselves when discussing P90X. I believe there are two reasons for this: One, most review sites are run by either beach body or beach body affiliates, and the “reviews” are just canned material telling you how great it is. Two, it takes time. There are a bunch of workouts, and to write about each of them would take a while. I  figured someone may as well give it a go.

To recap, P90X is so-named because the entire program takes 90 days, broken down into three 30-day “phases.” Each month is three weeks of intensity followed by a “recovery week,” except for the final phase which is four weeks of intensity all the way through. Here are the workouts for phase one and what I thought of them:

Chest and Back

This might be one of the best, fundamental workouts I’ve ever done. This is a tough workout, and it’s clear that by starting with this one Beach Body is trying to seek you on just how “extreme” the program is. The workout is two rounds of six sets of exercises per body part, so in total you’ll do 12 chest exercises and 12 back. That doesn’t sound like much, but the exercises are mostly pull-ups for the back, and ALL pushups for the chest. There’s no opportunity to reduce the weight to keep going; you just have to settle for fewer reps. Tony’s “tip of the day” in this workout is to pace yourself, and I agree. Just because you might be able to pump out 30 pushups once doesn’t mean you can do it multiple times, and wearing yourself out too early will only make it harder to put in good work later in the workout.

Also, don’t get sucked into trying to keep up with the monsters in the video. That’s a good way to feel really lousy about yourself really fast. Always push for one more rep when you think you’re done, but don’t feel bad if you can’t churn out 20 pull-ups in the last half of the workout.

Plyometrics

Murder. Absolute murder. That said, this video is as good an example as any to mention that you shouldn’t be put off by the long runtimes on the videos. Though this one clocks in at over an hour, that time includes the warmup and cool down portions too. In reality, the actual workout probably takes about 45 minutes, which is plenty because it’s awful. You’re essentially hopping, squatting and jumping around for 45 minutes, and even Tony is pretty gassed by the end of it. It’s an excellent cardio workout, but it’s also monotonous – you do (I think) four exercises, and then you repeat. You also do this video on day two in every active week of every phase, and you will get very, very sick of it. I started subbing in “Triometrics” and “Agility” from P90X3 just to keep me sane. Some people also choose to swap in “Insanity” workouts, as well. This workout never gets any easier, either – even as your cardio improves, you’ll find yourself jumping higher and faster to make up for it.

Shoulders and Arms

This is basically the workout you do when you go to the gym but don’t really know what you want to do that day. It’s fine, it’s a boilerplate upper body workout. The moves go shoulders, biceps, triceps in that order, and then get repeated. This is probably the least-sweaty you’ll get during any P90X workout

Yoga X

To be honest I only did this once, because it’s 90 goddamn minutes long. Not only that, but the first 40 or so minutes are the same “sun salutation” over and over and over again. I’m not saying you should skip yoga altogether, but nobody needs to do yoga for an hour and a half every week. I used the yoga video from P90X3 (only 30 min), but you could use literally anything if you feel like you MUST make yoga part of your workout.

Legs and Back

Other than Chest and Back, this might be one of the strongest workouts in the program. Like Plyometrics, it also gets done each week regardless of what phase you’re in. I think what amazes me most about this workout is just how much work you can get done without weights, even in your legs. Some exercises have the option of adding weight, but if you’re lifting for strength I advise adding weight to every exercise and ignoring the rep requirements. Instead of holding little weights and doing 25 squats, for instance, get much larger ones and only do 10-12. You’ll do about twice as much leg work as you do back, with the sequences going “legs, legs, back, break.” I think pull-ups are the only back exercises you’ll do in this one, and some of the variations suck (particularly “corn cob” pull-ups).

Kenpo

This is a joke. It’s basically “Tae Bo,” if anyone remembers that. It’s only meant to be a cardio workout, and it kind of is, but it’s incredibly lame and there’s no reason for it to be an hour long. Do it if you want, but I started subbing in P90X3’s “MMX” workout, which is infinitely superior and only about half as long. Barring that, just go for a run or something.

Ab Ripper X

Can’t forget about this one. You’ll never do this on its own, but rather after the weightlifting workouts (chest/back, shoulders/arms, legs/back). It’s only about 15 minutes long, but it’s a tough 15 minutes. Don’t expect to find garden variety crunches, either – it’s a lot more like a Pilates workout than it is a traditional ab routine. For me, it focuses a little too much on the hip flexors, but I suppose they are part of the “core” and need to be worked too. Three times per week is probably a little much for this, but your abs will definitely get stronger.

Recovery week

After three weeks of brutal workouts, the recovery week is a welcome respite. Even though you shouldn’t be super sore following a workout by this point, you’ll probably be very bored with them by now. The recovery week isn’t supposed to be totally idle – the program has you doing yoga, kenpo and lots of stretching, and they introduce one new workout: Core Synergistics. It’s unlike any of the other workouts, and focuses very much on combination/balance moves. It is, however, very much like the workouts in P90X2, which I’m doing now. To be honest, after the first phase I didn’t do much during the recovery weeks. That probably hurt my results a little, but it was good for my sanity.

I did P90X. Here’s what I think

Tony Horton P90X

 

Note: Because of the ridiculous amount of bullshit, Beach Body-sponsored sites out there that claim to offer “reviews” of their products, that’s about all you’ll get if you run a Google search for “P90X Review.” If you notice an abundance of images, links, and bolded text, that’s me exercising the tiny amount of SEO knowledge I have to hopefully get an actual review to rank.

I began the now-decade-old P90X home workout program sometime in February. Since it’s now sometime in May (because math), that means I’ve completed it. I was inspired to do it not because of slick marketing or outsized promises, but something altogether simpler – I wanted to get back into better shape, and I was getting tired of trying to figure out a routine or regimen. Having someone else tell me what to do seemed a lot easier, in that regard. Plus, I was familiar with it – I’d “acquired” the program several years prior, when I was living in Connecticut with no gym access. I figured a known entity was better than investing a bunch of money (or a couple of hours waiting on the torrent) on something unknown, so I went ahead and said “yep, I’m gonna do this.” I work from home with access to a high-quality (as these things go) apartment gym, so I had no excuse. I’ll say, I’m pretty happy with it – for the most part.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts, let’s first take a moment to consider what P90X “is,” or what it means. When it debuted in 2004, to my knowledge there was nothing so widely publicized on the market that actually worked. Prior to P90X, home workouts were (and continue to be) jokes – Jane Fonda, step aerobics, Richard Simmons et. all, they all gave in-home workout programs a bad name. But P90X, rather than going the tired “lose weight easy!” route, took a novel approach. It said “this program is hard, and in fact we’re going to sell it by playing up its difficulty.” Rather than coaching you along, Tony and the demonstrators actually participated in the workouts and sweat alongside you – the message being “if we can do this, you can too.” After that, things changed. “Bootcamp” workouts became commonplace in globo-gyms, CrossFit caught on, Tough Mudders were created and in general people decided that paying money to have someone else work them until they puked was a swell idea. Whether they actually completed it or not, P90X finally sold the gym-shy a program that genuinely offered them a path to better fitness. In fact (and particularly for folks who patronize places like Planet Fitness, where working out is actively discouraged), P90X may well be a plane above what most people do in the gym.

Those are not insignificant details. Here’s how I feel about the program overall (reviews of individual workouts to come in a later post).

The Pros

First, the obvious – P90X “works.” That is, if you’re looking to get noticeably more fit than you already are, P90X will do that for you. I regret not taking a “before” photo (which the materials recommend), because the “after” would be night and day. I look noticeably fitter all over. I also appreciate the program’s honesty. For instance, they say explicitly that if you don’t follow the diet guidelines (which I didn’t really do), you will certainly be more fit, but you won’t necessarily look it. That’s an obtuse departure from other programs that promise results based on the workouts alone. It’s also pretty upfront about who exactly it’s for – if you’re not already in some kind of shape, you probably won’t get the maximum benefits from P90X. For a man, I’d say that you need to be able to do at least 20 pushups and maybe five pull-ups prior to the program to get much out of it. Otherwise, not only will most of the workouts be superfluous, but you’ll find yourself feeling defeated compared to the animals in the videos.

P90X also goes beyond paying lip service to the concept of “total body fitness.” There isn’t a body part or discipline that gets ignored. Even though there’s technically “no cardio” (although really, the whole program is cardio), your heart and lungs will take a beating. Upper, middle and lower body, it’s all in there. Nothing is overlooked, though some parts are paid more attention than others. Also worth noting are the great pains taken to

Tony Horton P90X Ripped

Tony looks pretty good for 45

really gear the workouts to the gym-shy (though this is also one of its shortcomings). In some cases, you’ll really be amazed at what you can accomplish without gym equipment or even weights. However, if you’re someone looking to get into more traditional weightlifting, I think this is a great foundation. Due to the emphasis on bodyweight and compound movements, you’ll come out better-prepared for exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench presses, and you’ll have the stabilizing strength to do them properly.

In general I look better, I’m stronger (to a degree) and my cardio is better – I couldn’t really be happier with the results (nor could my wife). However…

The Cons

It’s hard to call anything about this program a “con,” but it has its weaknesses. For one thing, there’s really nothing inherently unique about it – sure, you get results, but that’s true of any by-God exercise to which you devote 6+ hours per week. It’s also not something you want to do if you have a very specific “look,” or goal, in mind. If you want a “lean, athletic” look, or humongous muscles, you won’t get that because the program is very total-body focused. You’ll also learn that you can’t fight genetics – as much as I’d like that “Brad Pitt in Fight Club” look, my body’s gonna do what it’s gonna do, which is pack on muscle. Outside of an ultra-specific diet and exercise regimen, I’ll never have a “swimmer’s physique.” That’s fine with me, but don’t go into it hoping to become something you’re not. Tony does preach “8-10 reps for size, 12-15 reps for lean,” which, besides being erroneous advice (if anything, the opposite is true), is rendered moot by the sheer number of reps you’ll end up doing per muscle group. Also, don’t buy into the “muscle confusion” hype in the marketing collateral. Most experts say it takes at least 10 weeks before your body has exhausted its options for neurological improvement and the recruitment of other muscle groups to assist with an exercise and resorts to building muscle; the entire program lasts a total of 12 weeks. I mean, I definitely packed on substantial muscle mass, but I’m also a fast gainer.

Maybe most crucially, don’t do this program if you expect to gain a lot of by-God strength – it’s just not designed for it. Though mass and strength are to a degree inextricable, P90X definitely leans towards the former. It’s in essence circuit training, albeit an incredibly effective variety. As I mentioned, there’s no getting around doing a huge number of reps per muscle group, and due to the home-friendly (more on that in a bit) nature of the program, there isn’t a lot of room to modify things into the high-weight, low-rep range. Chest is probably the most notable offender: For whatever reason, the only dedicated chest work comes in the form of pushups, which are limited to your bodyweight unless you add a weighted vest or something. Obviously your reps will increase over time, but that’s a formula for size, not so much strength. Again, they’re not mutually exclusive (I can now stack the bullshit Nautilus chest machine in my gym with zero effort), but if you can bench 300+ now, don’t expect this to help much. If anything, you might lose a little on your max.

While it may well be the most honestly effective in-home workout program, you’re still going to have to make sacrifices in terms of money and space. In selling the program, they claim you only need a pull-up bar and some dumbbells (or bands). That’s technically true and sounds good, but consider the pull-up bar. Most people aren’t going to set up a dedicated rack with a bar on it, so that means buying one of those doorframe models. That’s ok, but how many people have a strong doorjamb that also faces the TV? Not many. Regarding the weights, saying you need “some dumbbells” is a little disingenuous. I’m fortunate enough to be able to workout in the middle of the day when my apartment gym is empty, and I

P90X transformation results

This is comically unlikely to happen to you

honestly need the entire suite of weights, from 10 lbs to 60 lbs (and I could even use more, if they had it). Most men will, and getting that wide of a range of weight in your home is an incredibly expensive endeavor, even if you buy those adjustable dumbbells. Each and every video has someone showing you how to use resistance bands for each exercise, but I can’t help but doubt how effective those actually are (especially for men). Doing lat pulldowns on a band is no substitute for pull-ups, no matter how you slice it.

Finally, the program is outright exhausting, and I don’t mean the workouts themselves (though they are). While they sort of nod in the direction of variance, there are only so many workouts in the program, all of them ball-bustingly hard. While things change a lot from phase one to phase two, you’re always required to do “Plyo,” “Legs and Back,” “Yoga X,” “Ab Ripper X” and “Kenpo X” weekly for all 10 “active” weeks. Yoga is too long (but tolerable), and Kenpo X is useless but benign, but Plyo, Ab Ripper and Legs and Back are fucking murder. Combined, they’re the only ways you work your legs and abs, and it’s easy to get really, really sick of them. I “acquired” the new P90X3 program for my wife, and it was a Godsend. I was able to sub in workouts for Plyo, Ab Ripper, Yoga and Kenpo, leaving Legs and Back as the only repeating one. If you didn’t do that, though, I could see it being really hard to stick with the program. It’s such a problem that if you go to Beach Body’s website, they have schedules for using “Insanity” as substitutes for the P90X cardio routines. I also take issue with some of the individual workouts’ makeup – it doesn’t make sense to me, for instance, to work chest, shoulders and triceps in one sitting (I can work triceps without my chest, but not vice versa).

______________________

So that’s kind of my overview of the program. To be sure, don’t take the “cons” as reasons not to do P90X, unless you have very specific goals. It’s fantastic, and offers a genuine path to better fitness without the hassle of a gym contract. In the next entries, I’ll get into the specific workouts themselves so you can get a better sense of what you’re in for.

Why I won’t date Adi, a girl who travels

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Adi, who probably gets away with a lot of bullshit because she’s kind of hot

The short answer is because I’m married, though I suppose if I wished to date someone on the side a transient would be an ideal candidate. The longer answer is that as evidenced by this post on Medium (which is apparently like the Thought Catalog but possibly worse), people who describe themselves as “travelers” have an insufferably high sense of self-importance. Wanting to see the world is one thing. Considering yourself an entirely superior class of person because you sometimes like to go to places that aren’t the place you’re currently in is another. It’s the same with men who attach far too much self-worth to their beards. Congratulations asshole, your accomplishment was managing to avoid doing for two weeks something that no man enjoys doing anyway.

Let’s look specifically at why Adi doesn’t want you to date her

Don’t date a girl who travels. She is hard to please. The usual dinner-movie date at the mall will suck the life out of her. Her soul craves for new experiences and adventures.

You pig. Why would you take a girl to dinner when BASE jumping is always an option? You are SUCKING THE LIFE OUT OF HER WITH YOUR BANALITY. Also, what adult does dinner at the mall? I’m thinking Adi hasn’t been on a date since high school.

And she will never pay over $100 for Avicii because she knows that one weekend of clubbing is equivalent to one week somewhere far more exciting.

To be fair, I’d endure a transatlantic flight, food poisoning AND pay $100 if it meant not having to listen to Avicii. Maybe I do need to date a girl who travels.

Chances are, she can’t hold a steady job. Or she’s probably daydreaming about quitting. She doesn’t want to keep working her ass off for someone else’s dream. She has her own and is working towards it. She is a freelancer. She makes money from designing, writing, photography or something that requires creativity and imagination. Don’t waste her time complaining about your boring job.

This paragraph is I think what pisses me off the most about this exercise in verbal autofellatio. Look: I’m a freelancer myself. I’m aware of the freedom it brings. But to suggest that preferring to spend your paycheck on travel means you’re more creative than or somehow “above” regular working stiffs is fucking outright insulting. You know what working people do? They take those steady paychecks and save them so that they don’t spend 15 years of their lives living in squalor. You know what they do after that? They do some traveling of their own, only they do it better than you because they aren’t impetuous 20-something shitbags.

She’s not sure when the next paycheck is coming. But she doesn’t work like a robot all day, she goes out and takes what life has to offer and challenges you to do the same.

Ooh, such challenge. Yes, because some people choose to allocate a little more time to sustaining themselves, they’re WASTING THEIR LIVES. Hey, did you realize I can work somewhat normal hours and still get out there a little myself? The naivete of 20-somethings who think that this is their “only chance” to travel kills me.

Oh wait, Adi is the co-owner of a little surf hostel. Looks like she knows exactly from where that next paycheck is coming.

Her days are ruled by the sun and the moon. When the waves are calling, life stops and she will be oblivious to everything else for a moment.

So, she’s an easily distracted animal, like a cat, maybe?

She cooks well and doesn’t need you to pay for her meals. She is too independent and wont care whether you travel with her or not. She will forget to check in with you when she arrives at her destination. She’s busy living in the present. She talks to strangers. She will meet many interesting, like-minded people from around the world who share her passion and dreams. She will be bored with you.

Travel: The secret key to the success of feminism. My takeaway from this isn’t that you shouldn’t date Adi because she likes to travel. You shouldn’t date Adi because she’s a self-absorbed shithead who would seemingly be an intentionally terrible friend or girlfriend. How does “living in the present” mean that she’ll “forget to check in with you?” It doesn’t. It means the act of being somewhere that isn’t here is more important to her than you, because she is the most important thing in her life. Don’t “share her passion” for staving off adulthood, or do you even go so far as to make the pesky suggestion that she could turn her interests into a means of sustenance were she just a little more structured? I can smell your boringness from here.

And if you unintentionally fall in love with one, don’t you dare keep her. Let her go.

She’s all yours, fellas.

_____________________

I’ve run out of essay to pick at, but God dammit is this girl the worst, most oblivious fucking person alive. At the very least, she’s an archetypal example of the worst, most oblivious fucking people alive. What makes it obnoxious is that it’s all a matter of choice. It’s not like she has a job that requires her to be away from home 3/4 of the year. That would be one thing. “Reasons why it’s hard to date a traveling salesperson” would be an interesting read.

But no, she chose her life, and then decided she needed to write a thinly-veiled missive about how her life choice is superior to anyone else’s. Obviously, we all feel that way to some extent, because we need to justify our choices to ourselves. But there’s a difference between quietly reassuring yourself that you’re doing what’s right for you and dismissing 90% of the population as less than you in a public forum.

Even more disconcerting? The comments/annotations on the article. Apparently, lots of like-minded people think Adi has hit the nail on the head:

“I want to be this girl.”

“Fantastic! You managed to capture the essence behind the lifestyle.”

“Preach! This is the story of my life.”

“I am this girl. But I love sharing my life, love being inspired by what many may call the mundane. I love grounding myself in a modern city and hanging out with worker bees.”

Look at that, people. You banality is downright inspiring to your travel-minded overlords! I look forward to the post ten years from now titled “Don’t date a girl who has nothing to show for her time spent traveling in her 20s.”

Also, don’t worry: Someone did you the favor of writing a genderless version of Adi’s post.

Fellas: This young lady would like to talk to you about your chest hair

85e54b8072d4a24e3d9dffb5ecae7077Gentlemen. Dudes. Do you think an awful lot about your chest hair? Do you feel pressured by the media to conform to a certain standard of male beauty, a standard that begins – and ends – with your chest hair? No? Well, Stephanie Karina, author at The Thought Catalog, has your back. You may recognize The Thought Catalog as the premier thought leadership blog for twee 20-somethings, and for good reason. Behold:

The media grossly pressures you into adopting certain standards of beauty that are unattainable, save for a few lucky souls who have won the genetic lottery. They, the chosen ones, are as naturally hairless at 20, 35, or 47 as the day they first emerged from the womb, bald and ready to embrace the world with chubby arms.

Who among us hasn’t lamented the good fortune of our hairless brethren? It’s as though there aren’t enough shirts in the world to contain our shameful chest scourges.

You need to know that you are more than just your chest hair. I’m going to place full blame on the media for causing some of you to think otherwise.

Puhreach, sister.

Actually, their chests may not be as smooth as we are led to believe — thanks to cunning photographers and art directors who are adept at misrepresenting reality.

I would alert the media, if BIG MEDIA wasn’t already behind the conspiracy to make us all into hairless waifs.

Now, you and I both know that these media sweethearts don’t really represent the average American man. Yet, they cause some of you to remain ashamed of what you ought to consider a gift from nature. 

I’m starting to wonder if this is satire. [reads other posts] Nope, pretty sure it’s not.

For example, one close male friend recently waxed his chest. Bulbous, pus-filled boils began to appear up and down his torso and sides a few days later. He discovered that he was allergic to the wax that the aesthetician had used to remove his chest hair.

One time I shaved my chest in advance of a pool party, and I received a keloid scar resulting from an ingrown hair as my prize. I blame the media.

If you want, flaunt your man fur! It is prime for cold winter months — during which it could serve as an additional layer underneath your clothing. It could buffer you against bitter winds or sloshy snowfalls — which will prove useful as global warming progresses in its current direction. That is, if global warming isn’t a lie made up by Al Gore and hippie liberals in an attempt to plot world domination! 

See, I still don’t know if this is satire, meant to somehow draw a parallel between a non-existent issue and the real body images issues that women are often face. The thing is, that only works if the issue (or proposed solution, or whatever) in the satire isn’t real, or is totally unreasonable. No, manscaping isn’t a “problem,” but it’s a thing people do and I’m sure a certain type of guy might feel some amount of “pressure” to look tan and smooth like a Men’s Health cover model. Instead, she’s (ostensibly) drawing parallels between a minor, fringe issue and a real one. That doesn’t work, and is yet another example of why the The Thought Catalog is an absurd, unmitigated shithole for hack writers who put exactly zero thought into the shit they spew out onto the only site with little enough self awareness to actually publish these articles. The sad thing? This is probably one of the more readable pieces they’ve published in a while.

Do you. Do no one else. 

Thanks, Stephanie. You do the same.

Chris Kluwe might be right, but he’s still a douche

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If you haven’t been following the saga around former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, here’s a quick synopsis: In 2012, Kluwe was approached to speak on behalf of some gay rights activists groups, which he accepted because it’s an issue about which he feels strongly. Deadspin published a letter he wrote to a Maryland delegate chastising him for trying to suppress Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s support for gay athletes. Minnesota management didn’t like that, and tried to keep him quiet while he continued his activism, including tweets about the Pope, etc.

It was all pretty unoffensive stuff, but Kluwe was released in May of 2013. According to another letter he posted on Deadspin, Kluwe can’t be 100% certain it was because of his public activism, but he’s pretty sure it was:

However, it’s clear to me that no matter how much I want to prove I can play, I will no longer punt in the NFL, especially now that I’ve written this account. Whether it’s my age, my minimum veteran salary, my habit of speaking my mind, or (most likely) a combination of all three, my time as a football player is done. Punters are always replaceable, at least in the minds of those in charge, and I realize that in advocating noisily for social change I only made it easier for them to justify not having me around. So it goes.

Here’s my thing: I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s right, and it’s all pretty fucked up if he is. On a certain level, everyone is entitled to their beliefs, and they ought to have the opportunity to voice them. On the other hand, I’m annoyed that Chris Kluwe, who himself presents several good reasons why he’s not worth hiring, takes to a wildly popular sports blog to complain about getting axed because he does so under the blanket of championing civil rights.

What Kluwe doesn’t understand is that it’s impossible to entirely divorce himself from his profession in the eyes of the public. His whole stance was “these statements were my own, not the team’s, so they shouldn’t have cared.” It doesn’t work that way. Ask anyone who’s been fired for tweeting things with which their employer didn’t want to be associated – sticking “all opinions are my own” in your twitter bio doesn’t cut it. In Kluwe’s case, it’s even more pronounced because being employed by an NFL team is the only reason his words carry weight and influence. Him saying that he supports gay rights as an individual will always be reported as “Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe says he supports gay rights.” In fact, it wouldn’t be reported otherwise.

To me, It’s not an issue of whether or not the Vikings agree with him; it’s an issue of him pulling a football team into a discussion they don’t have to be a part of by virtue of opening his mouth. Yes, you can argue (and I would agree) that a football team, with their unique ability to reach millions of impressionable fans every Sunday, could use that influence to support Kluwe’s message. Hell, given that it’s a pretty basic issue of human rights, maybe they even should do that. Could, and should, but don’t have to.

I realize that a failure to act is almost as bad as acting negatively, but if we don’t want to treat corporations like people, we shouldn’t hold them to the same standards of activism as people, either. I don’t want politics mixed with my sports, and while I agree with Kluwe and commend his courage to speak out, having a more progressive world view than some people in the NFL isn’t exactly a major accomplishment. The Vikings didn’t want to get involved on a national scale, but he gave them no choice. If that’s really why they let him go, again, that’s fucked up, but I don’t entirely blame them.

No one follows you on Yelp

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Yes, I’m aware that people can follow other people on Yelp!, but that doesn’t mean they should. In theory, Yelp! is a great idea: Hold businesses accountable by giving the power to the people and letting them review and rate their performance. No more haughty dipshits being paid off to write glowing restaurant reviews. No guessing as to whether or not a place is worth your time.

In practice, it’s a terrible idea, because everyone on the internet is a haughty dipshit.

For one thing, no one goes on Yelp! to say that a place was just ok. They either gush or they bitch, but that’s inherent in any crowdsourced assessment scenario. What’s much, much worse about Yelp! are people like the guy you see above, who turn Yelp! into their own personal blogging platform, as though anyone gives a shit what individuals have to say. Individuality is exactly the reason for Yelp!’s existence in the first place. An individual review is useless; it only has value when you aggregate opinions. That’s why when douche canoes post entirely-too-long missives about a goddamn chicken Philly cheese steak, it makes me want to throw my computer into a lake.

It’s a really dirty trick too, because turning Yelp! into a blog means you’re guaranteed to get pageviews. No one can critique you or your writing; the worst they can do is send you a message. You can say a review was “helpful,” but there’s no option to say that it was “the worst fucking thing I’ve ever seen.” That would be a really big button. It’s the same smarmy, anti-negativity bullshit that powers sites like BuzzFeed. Hell, you can even say a review was “funny,” which is not something a Yelp! review should ever aspire to be. No one should have to read an amateur dumbass attempt to make pizza “funny.” Even if people do “follow” you on Yelp!, get over yourself. No one’s waking up in the morning to check to see your latest review, as though your opinions drive the tastes of other people. They don’t.

322 goddamned reviews. That’s nearly one for every day. What does this guy even do all day, besides provide content to a popular website, for free?

If you want an online platform for expressing yourself that no one will read or care about, start an actual blog. It’s working out swell for me.

Wells Fargo wants to know why I won’t use their bill pay service

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 4.49.59 PMHere’s how I read that email:

“We see that you’re not using Bill Pay, a feature that millions of our customers use but you do not. We’d like to know just who the fuck you think you are, what makes you so special, and what gives you the right to not use Bill Pay. Please select one of the following as your primary reason for not using this great, free service that makes it nigh-impossible to leave our bank, and then we’ll respond with an email detailing why your selection makes you a sissy fag and isn’t really a reason at all, because Bill Pay.

Kindest Bill Pay Regards Bill Pay Bill Pay,

Bill Pay”

For those who don’t know, online bill pay is what banks refer to as a “sticky product,” along with things like online banking, your debit card, direct deposit, etc. They’re features that seem like they’re all upside for the consumer, except for the fact that they call them “sticky” because they make it really, really hard to leave their bank. Imagine if you had all of your bills running through their system, and then wanted to leave. It’s basically impossible to do without missing a payment, or overdrawing the account when you switch your money over but forget to turn off the automatic bill pay. Then it takes even longer to close an account, which is what they want.

It’s fine to use if you really value the convenience of having it all in one place, but just about every creditor and utility now has their own online payment options, or can set up the automatic debits on their end. I suggest you take advantage of that. Not only is it just as easy, you get fun emails like these from time to time.

Enough with the Restaurant Renovation Shows, Already

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Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Restaurant Stakeout. Bar Rescue. Restaurant: Impossible. Odds are you’ve seen at least one of those shows. I’ve watched them all, and I still do, to an extent. It’s good television. If somehow you’ve managed to never see one of these shows, the premise is that a business owner (either bar or restaurant, depending on the show) is on the verge of losing everything, and is reduced to calling in an expert for help. The “expert” comes in, yells at everyone, makes an absurd amount of changes in a needlessly short amount of time and finally everything works out in the end. The business reports higher sales and staves off bankruptcy. Like I said, it can be compelling television, because everyone loves a predictable story arc. Last night I watched a new show on the Food Network called On the Rocks (get it!?), featuring yet another British “expert” telling business owners how stupid they are. I think, with this final straw laid upon the camel’s back, we should all agree to let the genre die.

At least in my young mind, this entire genre was made possible by Simon Cowell during his American Idol stint. That is, I can’t recall a time before that when someone actually criticized people on national television before an audience of millions. Whether or not Cowell actually pioneered it, he definitely created the template: Have an accent, be an expert, and deliver (sometimes unnecessarily) brutal criticism under the guise of “wanting to help.” That character was confined to competition-type shows for a while, but it didn’t take long to figure out that people love watching other, normal people get belittled on television. Now, we have angry men yelling at restaurant owners. We have reached our saturation point.

My problem isn’t really that I doubt the expertise of the stars of these shows. Everyone knows that Gordon Ramsay is both a talented chef and successful restauranteur. I don’t doubt that John Taffer hasn’t owned and operated a bunch of profitable bars. I don’t know much about Robert Irvine, but he’s the most irritating of the bunch. Instead, my problem is that making good television and actually helping a business are two diametrically opposed goals, no matt how hard you try to mesh them. I used to work as a consultant, and I can assure you that at no point were we allowed to call our clients or their staff “fucking idiots,” even if the work was pro bono, as it is in the case of these shows. Producers have to create story arcs complete with underdogs, heroes, and antagonists, none of which are necessary (or, you know, beneficial) for improving a business’ bottom line.

To see what I mean, watch an episode of the BBC version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. He goes in, spends most of his time in the kitchen (he’s a chef by trade after all), helps the owner on the business end, and uses his fame to help with the marketing. There are no heroes or villains, just a kind of boring “behind the scenes” type look at how a restaurant ticks. Note that he does all of this relatively quietly. The US version, on the other hand, is a circus. He yells and curses at the top of his lungs. There’s dramatic music. Instead of just going in and offering simple advice, he completely tears down the restaurant, its menu, and the employees. Bar Rescue does it. Restaurant: Impossible does it. Everything is re-built in a manner of days, as though three days and a facelift is enough to change the fundamental issues that plagued management in the first place (it’s not, if you search around online you’ll see that nearly every place that’s been “saved” has ended up closing anyway). The result is a program that’s, while certainly entertaining, exhausting. Exhausting to watch. Exhausting to invest in, especially in 2013 when you can pull up a bar on Yelp!, see that it already closed, and know that the episode you’re watching was for naught.

Once the “reality” aspect of the show is dead, is there really any point to them anymore? They’re all the same, and as producers fine-tune what does and does not get ratings, they’ll only become more scripted and less realistic. More than anything, they’ve become avenues for the “experts” to promote their personal brands. I love Bar Rescue, but I’m tired of hearing John Taffer have the audacity to blame a bar’s failure on menu design, the secrets to which, of course, only he knows. Restaurant: Impossible has nice pacing, but enough with Robert Irvine using it as a platform for his “my cooking is better than your cooking; follow my instructions to the letter or you’ll fail” bullshit. These shows had their moment in the spotlight, but it’s time to let them die a dignified death (if Car Lot Rescue didn’t already ruin the chances of that).

If You Want to Get Stronger, Lift Heavier Weights

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I get tired of seeing people in the gym toiling away for countless reps with meaningless weights. Well, not tired, I guess. It doesn’t affect me in any meaningful way. They’re the ones who get tired. But still, it amuses (or more accurately, bemuses) me. People go to the gym to improve their physical fitness, and lift weights specifically to get stronger. Why, then, do people waste so much time doing 1,000 reps with 1 lb. weights when they’d be better served doing 1 rep with 1,000 lb. weights? The answer is because people, and their prevailing wisdom, are retarded.

Somehow, at some point, we got into our heads the idea that lifting big weights will make you big, and lifting small, sleek weights will make you small and sleek. Women are especially guilty of this. It’s probably due to the fact that yes, the largest weights in the gym are typically lifted by the largest people. In fact, the opposite is mostly true. Lifting a lighter weight to exhaustion will tell the body to increase the number of muscle fibers, thereby making you bigger. This has its benefits, namely increased size (if you’re looking for that) and muscle endurance. For some people, that’s really important. Anyone who works a job that requires them to lift moderate loads over extended periods of time, mostly. But for the rest of us, the casual weight lifters just looking to get stronger? Lift heavier.

Weightlifting, like any other physical exercise, is something we get better at with practice. If you practice lifting light things over and over, you’ll get better at that. Conversely, if you practice lifting heavy things fewer times, you’ll get better at lifting heavy things. Consider the functional applications of that kind of strength. Do you anticipate a time where someone will approach you and say “Excuse me, would you mind helping me lift this moderately heavy thing up and down several times?” Doubtful. Instead, you’re more likely to have someone say “Please sir, will you help me lift this extremely heavy thing beneath which I am trapped, so that I may live?” Suddenly, those bicep curls don’t seem like such a good idea. Big biceps are nice, but having a strong back, legs, and shoulder cradle is a lot nicer.

If you’re still of the “lift big to get big” mindset, maybe rethink your strategy. Why do 20 lat pulldowns when you could be eeking out 10 pull-ups? Why do a bunch of pointless leg extensions when you could power through a set of 5 heavy squats? I’m not saying there’s a problem with lifting for size, or that you can realistically have one without the other (you can’t), but remember: Lift heavier, and get stronger.

Recent Grads, Beware of “Marketing” Companies

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Though I’m by no means a recent college grad, like many of them I find myself nosing around for job opportunities so I can do things like pay my rent, feed myself, and drink with reckless abandon. Finding a job can be one of the hardest things in the world, but sometimes you think you’ve hit the jackpot – you apply for a position, and within days the company can’t seem to get ahold of you fast enough. They, despite having a name along the lines of “XYZ Business Consultants,” inform you that they’re a “marketing company.” Well shit, how cool is that?!? Everyone wants to work in “marketing,” right? Well, I’m here to tell you to watch out for these companies, because nine times out of ten, they are bullshit.

What they usually end up being are MLMs, or Multi Level Marketing companies. That’s just a fancy name for a pyramid scheme. This is how they work: As an employee, you go door to door, six days per week, selling something. It could be coupons, sports tickets, or services for a “known” company. You work strictly on commission (usually about $10 per sale), but your main focus is on advancement. You do this by doing well enough to warrant them sticking new recruits underneath you. The company grows not through the sales you make, but by the number of people you’re able to add to the base of your “pyramid” – that’s what makes it a MLM.

The interviews go something like this: You go to the office, and the “manager” speaks to you for around 15 minutes about the company, overhyping what they do and downplaying the real nature of the business (note that the script they follow makes them come across as very candid). If they like you (they will), they send you to the second “interview,” which is just you going out into the field with a salesperson. At any point, if either you decide you’re not interested or they determine you “don’t have what it takes” (there’s a lot of ambition/work ethic shaming that goes on), they will leave your ass in the middle of nowhere. I’ve seen this happen myself, when I was dumb enough to think these were legit opportunities. When the other “candidate” with me decided he was done, the salesperson just pulled over and left him somewhere in VA Beach. If you make it through the “interview,” you go back to the office around 8pm, where they’ll offer you the “job.” I declined, because I don’t entirely hate myself.

The “marketing” buzzword is how they draw young people in, so it’s important to know how that whole part of a business works. There’s advertising, which is what you see in print, the internet and on television. It’s collateral designed to compel you to take action and drive you into the arms of a salesperson. Usually, this is contracted out to large agencies that are very clear about being creative advertising firms. Then there’s sales, which is pretty straightforward. Whether inbound or outbound, the goal of sales is to get the customer to agree to a purchase. Finally, there’s marketing. Marketing can do a couple of things. One aspect is the creation of internal collateral. This can be anything from website or catalog copy, or brochures used by the salespeople. It’s their job, once a potential customer is compelled by an ad, to provide more information and act as the final push to get them into a sales situation.

The other function of marketing is for metrics-based sales planning. They’ll take sales results, online data, focus groups, and various other tests to help determine how and to whom the company should be positioning their product. This is the primary function of external “marketing” firms. They either already have data that would otherwise be costly to obtain through primary research for a company or, in the case of smaller firms, they have the capabilities to collect this data that the company simply does not. This is why a lot of recent grads, after joining a legitimate marketing firm, get jaded with the practice. It’s not glamorous and creative like they hoped. Instead, it’s pouring over spreadsheets to see which people, of which age group, in which geographic area purchased a given product or service.

The MLMs have gotten slick with their own marketing, and can appear as legitimate businesses. The one that contacted me recently had a nice looking web page where they even featured their management team, had a well-written (but vague) mission statement, and included links to their Facebook and twitter pages. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you’re being courted by a MLM, but here are some giveaways:

  • They call themselves a “marketing” company, but their website makes little to no mention of their process/strategy. Even more telling, they don’t tout any kind of metrics-based approach. Remember, that’s the primary function of external marketers.
  • They talk about being a “sports,” “entertainment” or “business” marketing firm. MLMs want to attract type-A, competitive people (particularly men), and know that these are desirable fields for those types. Be especially wary if they say something like “You’ll do well here if you’re a former athlete.” In the sports and entertainment industries, the marketing is typically done in-house. Don’t think for a minute that it could ever be so easy to be considered for a marketing position with the Washington Nationals.
  • Their entry level position is called something like a “Junior Executive.” The people who glom onto MLMs tend to have a very inflated sense of self, while at the same time are too dumb to realize that what they’re doing is a scam. What kind of person could call themselves a “junior executive” while selling crap door to door with a straight face? That’s right, a self-important, go-getting moron.
  • They’re only hiring for entry level positions. This isn’t entirely unheard of, but realistically no respectable company has only ONE type of opening, and when they do they’ll usually come out and say that it’s entry-level sales (thereby disqualifying them as a marketing firm). When you see that, it’s a good indication that the only way to advance is by climbing the pyramid from within.
  • The management team seems young. At the place that contacted me, the “president” of the company couldn’t have been more than 25, and he only started there (at the bottom, of course) in 2010. His LinkedIn profile refers to the firm as a being in the “Marketing and Advertising industry,” while the “CEO” (only 27 himself) lists it as “Management Consulting.” In no way are two under-30 dipshits from middling schools equipped to run legitimate marketing firms.
  • They place heavy emphasis on “entrepreneurial spirit,” “unlimited income,” “a team environment” and “passion for advancement.” The first two are just codewords for “this job pays by commission only.” No reputable company would take a fresh college grad and place him in a commision-only sales position, because sales is a nuanced field that takes time to learn. The last two refers to the cult-like atmosphere MLMs cultivate. They do chants in order to get “psyched up” every morning. It’s a tactic used to promote group-think and hide the fact that you’re working six days per week for little pay for a sham company.
  • There are no real qualifications for getting hired. Real marketing firms look for people with genuine quantitative abilities. MLMs make their requirements, if they have any, intentionally vague and universal. They need to cast a wide net in order to find the few who will drink the kool aid.
  • Rather than emailing you to set up a phone interview, they call right away, or email and ask you to call them. The people who “advance” within the pyramid are by default the slickest talkers, so their odds of recruiting people increase when they can speak to you one on one, when you don’t have much of a chance to process what’s being said.

I’m sure there are more indicators, but these are the ones I’ve noticed. The bottom line is, use your common sense. If it seems too good to be true, and they’re a little too eager to talk to you, it’s probably a scam.