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Why CEOs Run The World

Why CEOs Run The World

If there was a Runners Anonymous self-help group, a lot of the addicts would be CEOs. These days, running (or maybe endorphins) seems to be the drug of choice for CEOs. Why is that? And why am I following that stereotype? I hate to follow the crowd. Any crowd. I see myself as an unconventional thinker, a trailblazer. Yet, here I am fitting right into a stereotype and perfectly happy doing so.

Last Sunday morning, I ran 13.1 miles – effectively a half marathon, except this was on my own – around the coast of Manhattan and Brooklyn in 1 hour 35 minutes. Just for the fun of it! (Though I was also keen to try out my new Lululemon running gear) This was a new personal best and follows a pattern of me beating my personal best a half-dozen times per year for the past four years. At the age of 46, surely I should have peaked long ago, and now be gliding gently towards my rocking chair. But I’m still on the run.

Kansas City half Marathon
    CEO Ben Legg at 2016 Kansas City Half Marathon

    Always On The Run

    A little background: I have always been a runner of sorts.

    I started my career as a British Army officer, which involved running 2-3 times per week, along with all sorts of other exercise. I was fit. When I left the army in 1999 to enter the world of business (initially as a strategy consultant at McKinsey), I dropped that frequency to one run of six to eight miles every weekend. This was at an unmeasured pace – probably around nine minutes per mile – with my dogs tagging along. So I have never been unfit. However, through the next 13 years travelling the globe working in executive jobs at McKinsey, Coca-Cola, and Google around the world, I flatlined at that level. My assumption was, that over time, I would let my fitness slip gently.

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    So what happened to make me running obsessive, and fitter now than when I was in the army?

    I think the most likely explanation is becoming a CEO in 2012. CEOs make conference speeches and TV appearances more than others, and I am no exception. This leads to seeing your own picture a lot more often, and noticing yourself looking a bit chubby is a great motivator to become fitter. You also hear a lot about the link between fitness and being able to cope with stress. Getting some alone time is attractive too, given that your days are packed with back-to-back meetings.

    Therefore, since 2012, I have one-by-one initiated a number of actions that have each nudged me towards ever-increasing fitness:

    My own gym:

    I bought my own gym. I had often joined commercial gyms in the past and not gone to them. The time required to get there, work out, get home, get changed, etc. just seemed like too much. However, with a home gym, you dramatically reduce the unproductive admin time associated with working out, so you have no excuses but to do it. I now workout 3 times per week.

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    Running midweek:

    In 2012, I toured the U.S. with a colleague and he suggested running together for fun. So, I took my running kit and loved it. What better way to see the cities I visit for work than running around them at sunrise, when everyone else is asleep, the streets are empty, and the sun is just peeking over the horizon? I now run twice per week midweek, in addition to my weekend run.

    Half-marathons:

    Four years ago, I signed up to do my first half marathon in years and loved it. I wasn’t particularly happy with my time though, so I signed up to run around six half-marathons per year, in order to always have a “test” ahead of me, to prevent slacking off.

    Company health:

    When the insurance broker came to me a few years ago and said that our healthcare premiums would rise by $1,000 per person per year, even if we maintained the same level of claims as before – just due to industry cost inflation – I decided to try to fight it. I gave the HR department $300 per employee to get the organization fit and reduce the number of claims. They then set about giving out subsidized Fitbits, organizing fun health-related activities, and incentivizing health improvements that were based on twice yearly medical checks. Clearly, I needed to lead by example. We did avoid those health cost increases, and also had a lot of fun in the process.

    Fitbit:

    Clearly, this has been a major driver of fitness for many people. Since getting my first Fitbit, I have tracked my pace on every run and always strive to keep improving. Benchmarking my weekly steps vs my friends and colleagues is also highly motivating. Like other CEOs, I like to win, and certainly hate to be out of the top three in my friends’ league table (of about 80 people) so can’t have a single slack day. I now average around 120,000 steps per week – between running, walking, and working out.

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    Running tourism:

    Given my new habit of running midweek at sunrise, I started to try to find the perfect morning running route. I now scour Google Maps for every city that I travel to, looking for the best runs – based on views, architecture, history, serenity, and other factors. My current favorite is in San Francisco, taking an Uber to Sausalito just before sunrise, then running back over Golden Gate Bridge and along the Embarcadero. Awesome!

    Setting minimum standards:

    I have set myself several “bars” for acceptable running standards. These include:

    • Never running less than six miles per run.
    • Never running slower than a seven-and-a-half minute pace per mile.
    • Always overtaking at least 10 times more people than the number that overtakes me (to keep me in the top ten percent of runners).

    Calendar blocking:

    To ensure that I manage to fit exercise into my overloaded calendar, I pre-block my calendar with recurring entries – three runs and three workouts per week, at sunrise. That keeps the time free. If I need to schedule an early morning call, I move the calendar block to a different time in that day, to ensure I get my exercise.

    HelloFresh:

    Diet clearly plays a part too. I used to eat too many carb-heavy, rich meals. Then in 2015, I subscribed to HelloFresh, which now delivers three boxes of ingredients to my house every week, for me to cook awesome meals (clear instructions are provided). The service provides very healthy ingredients and sensible portions, and this has definitely led to a bit of weight loss, enabling even faster running times.

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    Tough Mudder:

    What a great invention! Running 12 miles with a bunch of friends – braving mud baths, monkey bars, razor wire, and electrocution – strikes me as a fine way to spend a Saturday morning. I have completed two this year and am planning many more.

    Featured photo credit: Kansas City Business Journal via bizjournals.com

    More by this author

    Ben Legg

    CEO of Adparlor

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    Published on September 21, 2018

    How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle and Increase Fat Loss?

    How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle and Increase Fat Loss?

    “Can I look like you in 3 months?”

    The teenager stared at me, waiting eagerly for a response. It’s a normal day as a certified fitness coach and yet again, I had to grab some flying feet and put them down on the ground of reality again.

    “If I would be able to reach this body in 3 months, you think it would’ve taken me 5 years?” I responded smilingly.

    In the same moment I tapped the teenager on the shoulder and we both went to the training floor together. Fast forward to today, he eventually reached his dream body. But it took him a little bit longer than 3 months.

    In this article, I want to give you a broad overview and answer to the commonly asked question: how long does it take to build muscle and increase fat loss?

    Your biggest enemy for building muscle and fat loss

    I remember when I joined my first gym years back. After two weeks of continuous training, I saw absolutely no difference in the mirror.

    I googled “2 weeks body transformation” and was frustrated by seeing all these pictures by savvy marketers.

    We human beings have evolved to seek instant gratification. We can’t wait for things to happen tomorrow. We want them today or even better, yesterday.

    It doesn’t matter if we talk about business or our fitness results. If we truly want to make a long-lasting change, we have to delay our innate need to crave gratification instantly and focus on the big picture.

    In the book called Grit by Angela Duckworth, a predictor for future success in children was the so called ‘Marshmallow Test’.

    The Marshmallow Test works this way. Children are basically given two options:

    1. Eat the marshmallow in front of them right now.
    2. Wait 10 minutes without eating the first marshmallow and get a second marshmallow to eat on top.

    This is an insane test of willpower and the ability to delay gratification for an even bigger payoff, as a 10-year old school child. If the child already mastered that crucial skill at such a young age, it was a strong predictor for future success.

    We all have to learn how to delay gratification better. Most people overestimate what they can do in one month, but totally underestimate what they can do in 10 years.

    What you really need to build muscle fast

    Your ground zero

    It all matters on which point we start off. Because the reality is:

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    Everyone has to start somewhere.

    A former Olympic athlete will have an easier time building muscles and losing fat than an avid couch potato. There are mainly two reasons for this:

    • The pre-selected genetic blueprint of the athlete.
    • Work ethic of a professional.

    While countless of variables play a role in influencing your success in the gym, it all can be traced back to those crucial points. And the saying still holds merit:

    Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard. — Tim Notke

    A mentor of mine told me years ago that you can succeed in life if you just don’t give up.

    You can have average skills, average genetics and average work ethic. As long as you keep improving on your craft, you will succeed.

    Not immediately – but definitely and finally.

    Setting the right expectations

    I’m great at setting unrealistic goals and having the wrong expectations. I wanted to have 100,000 subscribers on my Youtube Channel and at the end of my first year when I started, back in 2015, I ended up with 30.

    This is an embarrassing story, but I hope it gets one point across:

    Your goals need to be realistic if you can’t deal with the setbacks of not reaching them.

    Ending up with 30 subscribers even after pulling frequent all-nighters to get this endeavor rolling was soul-crushing. I contemplated throwing in the towel.

    With the right support from my network and discipline, I managed to keep going. The channel has now grown 100-fold in those 3 years.

    To find out what is realistic, consider the next timeline.

    The muscle growth timeline

    Here’s what results you can expect if your main goal is building lean tissue mass. Warning: Genuine muscle growth without performance enhancing drugs takes a long time.

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    Of course these time periods can vary individually depending on your genetic blueprint and work-ethic. You might see results sooner, or maybe even later.

    The time frame is set to training 2-3 times per week (continuously!).

    Pro tip: Ask a friend or hire a coach to boost your progress tremendously.

    This is what happens when you decide to join a gym, out of my experience training hundreds of clients:

    Month 1-3

    Eat – Sleep – Gym – Repeat.

    Your motivation is at your peak at this point. You will tell your friends and family about your new workout regime. You will notice slight differences in your appearance, which are mainly nonexistent.

    You will experience immense strength gains on your training because your body finally realizes how to use its muscles properly.

    Month 3-6

    This is the time period where most people break. You will be going to the gym consistently, yet the results won’t come just now. It’s the big dip in the whole process.

    Your goal in this phase is to build a habit around your gym visits. You will most likely discontinue to have the all-in mentality as in the first 3 months. You will seek sustainability. Breaking news: It will still be hard.

    But in the end it’s all worth it. Trust me.

    Month 6-12

    “I’ve seen a new vein in my arm!”

    The guy came up to me excited. This is the time where the normal person starts to see considerable results in his training.

    An old friend will talk to him and see a difference in his body shape. Suddenly, his old t-shirt gets too thin. The frequent gym-goer feels amazing.

    Month 12- 24

    Fitness is a trojan horse. While you might think frequent training will only change your body shape, your character will be impacted too.

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    Your friends and family will notice. You’re more confident, assertive and more happy with your self-image. You feel confident and sure in your abilities because you have achieved what you set out to do.

    Breaking news:

    You will still not be satisfied. And that’s a good thing. But don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

    They haven’t come easy.

    Month 24+

    “That’s what works for me!”

    If you’ve been going frequently and consistently (twice every week for 2 years), you can pat yourself on the shoulders.

    If you’ve done most things correctly and with a certified coach, you will reach the goal shape at this point. But this is also the point where it can get frustrating.

    Further results will come painstakingly slow at this stage. You increasingly have to work on your weaknesses and constantly alter your training to see further results. Be it applying different repetitions, intensity, workout duration, speed or machines.

    A lot of people will not see results after this stage because the benefits are not worth the work for them. We have to realize that what got us here, will not get us to the next level.

    The fat loss timeline

    If you’re trying to lose fat, I have 2 pieces of news for you:

    1. It will come faster. Fat loss has a shorter timeline.
    2. It will be exactly as hard as building muscles, if not harder.

    Here’s what you can expect if you’re starting to lose weight. Here again: Proper guidance can speed up the process.

    Month 1

    “I’ve lost 10kg in the first week!”

    Your results will come fast. Too fast.

    You will feel exhausted. Most of your weight that you lose will be water. This is the big dip in the whole weight loss process.

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    The shocking news: Most people stop their diet in the first month.

    Month 2-3

    You will reconsider your dieting strategy and opt for more sustainability. You will reintroduce “bad foods” in your diet that you’ve most likely blocked out in the first two weeks or month.

    Because balance (and not quitting your diet) is more important to you at this stage than seeing rapid weight loss. Your life quality will increase at this stage.

    Month 6-12

    At this time frame, you have probably lost more than 10kg. The majority of the people looking to lose weight will be satisfied with their results and shocked by how much of a difference it makes in their appearance.

    You will feel more confident, more energized and more self-assured. You would’ve never guessed that you could make it, that you could finally lose your weight – yet you did!

    And everyone will notice. “What happened to you?!” – your friends will ask you jealously. Old crushes of you will suddenly initiate contact again just to know what you’re “up to this weekend”.

    The fat loss after this stage will come slowly if you haven’t been obese to start with. The goal at this stage is to have created a rock-solid habit out of your gym and eating patterns.

    Then you don’t have to worry about the Yo-Yo effect.

    Conclusion

    “You changed my life!”

    The same teenager took me aside at a Monday evening. He had his first date the weekend prior. Apparently it went well.

    In the whole time frame we worked together, he built up more than 10 kilograms of muscles. It took him more than 2 years. Yet I’m sure if you’d ask him today, he would tell you that it was all worth it.

    Focus on the things that you can control. Losing fat or building muscles might be an overwhelming task to start out with. We have to delay our innate need for instant gratification and focus on the things that we can control.

    Changing our genetic blueprint or the responses our muscles have to the training stimulus is not in our hands. But training at least 2 times per week, eating the right foods and setting the right goals and expectations is.

    Featured photo credit: Arthur Edelman via unsplash.com

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