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Your Guide To Baseline Optimization
Majoring In The Major, Not The Minor
Every time I log into Twitter it seems there is some new “life hack” that is going to “change your life”, and has all of these huge benefits and if you don’t do them then you’re not gonna make it…
While I am a huge believer in the philosophy of being the best version of ourselves we can be and optimizing our bodies and minds, there comes a certain point where it becomes too much and simply isn’t realistic for anyone with any semblance of a normal life. Not to mention, these “benefits” are typically negligible in the big picture and have a very diminishing return.
That is what we are here to talk about today—the big picture.
My goal has always been to get the most out of the least, whether that be time, effort, money, etc. This is the framework I like to operate from—efficiency. In order to be efficient, we have to look at what makes the biggest impacts and focus on those and make sure we get them right. Beyond this, depends on you, your goals, your time availability, and quite frankly how much you really care.
Within this framework of efficiency, we want to get the best results we can that are going to truly optimize and make a huge difference in actually operating at our highest levels, becoming the best versions of ourselves, and most importantly positive impacts/results we want for our health and fitness.
Majoring In The Major
You always hear people tell you “ don’t major in the minor” if you’re unfamiliar with this term it simply means don’t put all your time and effort into focusing and doing the minor/small things instead of the major/big things.
→ It does not make sense to worry about what the best supplements to build muscle are if you can’t even get into the gym consistently and train hard.
→ It makes zero sense to worry about how much sunning your balls will boost your testosterone if you can’t even get adequate sleep.
→ It is fucking dumb to worry how much jumping in a cold tub will boost your fat loss if you can’t even stick to a diet for a single day—the list could go on and on.
Instead, we are doing the opposite and working from a top-down/reverse pyramid model of focusing on what the big movers are, then what we can do to make those a little better, then down the model until we start getting into obsessive-compulsive land where the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
For this we have to look at this in 2 different ways:
The actual big picture concepts that contribute to achieving results and ensuring the individual tasks we do are going to actually work + when it makes sense to move further down the optimization rabbit hole → think behaviors
The actual individual tasks themselves that have the biggest benefit on optimizing our health and fitness → think actionable individual tasks
The “behavior” part of this factors the key concepts that we have to apply on the behavioral/lifestyle level to ensure the actual individual tasks will work. You can have the perfect plan but without accounting for the behavioral side of things, it won’t work because you’ll be working on a faulty framework.
The reverse pyramid model for this looks like this:
The logic behind this model is based on what actually is going to drive results on the behavioral part of the equation, meaning what factors determine how effective the individual tasks we do to optimize our health will be.
If you cannot be consistent then everything below doesn’t really matter a whole lot because you won’t actually be doing what is necessary to make your system work. Your level of optimization will depend on how consistently you can perform the individual tasks.
Once you are consistent, then you want to move down the pyramid and optimize based on what is feasible for your lifestyle.
After consistency, we have lifestyle meaning as we optimize we want to ensure we are actually sustainably fitting the individual tasks into our lifestyle in a way that we can actually perform them (be consistent) and still enjoy our lives. It makes no sense to try to do 100 different things if you are miserable in life and neglecting other responsibilities.
Once lifestyle demands/design is accounted for, we start working towards specific individual goals. These are the big-ticket items we want to ensure we are working on and optimizing, these are more specific than the above.
Again, here we want to ensure we can consistently work on these items, they fit into our lifestyle, and they are specifically improving the places we want to see the biggest results from—this is likely the most important aspect for most people to get right.
Once we’ve accounted for the above, then we can start adding some of the “extras” or smaller items that can get us the results we want, albeit they aren’t the big movers.
→ At this point it becomes a matter of whether you want to do these things, you can do them consistently, they fit into your lifestyle, and they align with your specific goals.
The gist here is it has to make sense otherwise we are just throwing a whole lot of stuff at ourselves with no real sustainable way to actually benefit from them.
However, this isn’t the main focus, the main focus is the actual individual tasks that move the needle in terms of balancing optimization, reasonably, without diving into a giant rabbit hole of the 10,000 little extras we could do to further get *some* benefit.
Now, the meat and potatoes of this post—what actions actually set the base for optimization without jumping into the realm of majoring in the minor?
Contrary to the plethora of different “hacks” you see on social media, it’s much more simple than most think. Keep in mind, “gurus” and “influencers” online have to sound unique and “cutting edge” to stand out and there is no better way than angling some unique protocol that is going to turn you into “superman”. Just the way it is, most don’t even practice what they preach, but I digress.
Even within this list, we have orders of precedent that are essential to the system working as a whole, but the key takeaway will be the items that are actually going to make a difference and the rest, if you choose to go deeper down the rabbit hole, don’t really make or break—talking micro-percentage point boosts to overall optimization.
As I said, there are even “majors” that are more major than the others, so that is where we will start.
These in the “Tier 1” section aren’t listed in any particular order as they are all intangible to optimization and without 1 you really throw the whole thing out of whack.
→ Lifting/Resistance Training
No brainer, right? When it comes to operating at our best state, it is NOT happening without exercise. Though a “no brainer”, many don’t actually understand to the extent just how and why lifting and exercise are crucial to overall life optimization.
I listed lifting separately from cardio and other forms of exercise as it is uniquely beneficial in the fact that it provides many unique benefits that other forms of exercise don’t necessarily provide, and without lifting, other forms of exercise are incomplete from an optimization standpoint.
The benefits far exceed looking good and just general health, yes these things are important and improve, but exercise does much more in terms of improving our lives on many levels:
Improves Cognitive Function
Improves Hormone Profile
Improves Mood and Mental Health
Improves Overall Energy Levels
Improves Appearance (which as stated here has multiple benefits outside of just health)
These are just the main things that come to mind when we talk about optimization, on a strictly health basis, the benefits cover enough that you could just list pretty much everything and be right—exercise is that powerful beyond the mirror.
Your goals and personal needs will determine how much, but my general recommendation is 3-5 days of lifting/resistance exercise a week for:
The sweet spot, especially for most muscle-building and general health goals
Efficient—could do more but going to see diminishing returns on the benefits
I would list more detailed “how’s” but you’re on my Substack for God’s Sake, the answers are all over.
Like lifting, cardio is both unique and crucial on its own for optimization's sake. Again, pretty much every marker of health is going to be improved by cardio exercise.
Where cardio deserves its own place is because it will cover some of the aspects of health lifting doesn’t necessarily work as well or really at all. Some say lifting is enough but I highly disagree as you’re not working the energy systems that proper cardio will.
Where cardio really shines in terms of improving everyday life is in the mental aspects. Cardio does an amazing job improving your mental state, most (myself included) would say much, much more than lifting.
The question of cardio becomes “what kind is the best” and that answer is very individual and based on preference, but I will say my recommendation is incorporating zone 2 cardio at least 3 times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes if solely looking for the general fitness and mental benefits, up to 4-6 days a week for 45-75 minutes if looking for more longevity and cardiovascular disease prevention—if unsure what Zone 2 Cardio is, we have an amazing post here: Your Guide To Zone 2 Cardio
I also typically recommend 1 session of HIIT-style cardio a week, but as this is about efficiency and barebones optimization, the above would be my recommendation.
We could talk about diet all day and its role in optimizing nearly all parts of existence because at the end of the day, it is literally the main driver of nearly all outcomes of health, instead, we will briefly go over dieting from an optimization standpoint.
Diets need to work for us from a fuel and nutrition source to enjoyment. I’m not here to tell you what exact diet to eat, but we want to ensure we are checking the box on eating foods at:
Make us feel good, especially our gut health as this is deeply connected to mental health and cognitive function
Promote our body composition goals
Provide the macro and micronutrients needed to allow the body to perform at its peak state
Diet is entirely too nuanced and complex for a blanket recommendation here, but the key is we are giving the body what it needs and not what it doesn’t. Health and function come first then taste (doesn’t mean it can’t taste good as well, you should greatly enjoy your diet).
I said none were more important than the others, but it’s hard not to argue diet is the most important as it is literally the input that tells the entire system what to do.
Sleep is the one everyone knows is important but is usually the easiest to let go. While maybe you can operate for temporary periods without sleeping, I can promise you that without proper sleep you are operating at much, much less than any type of optimal state.
Sleep is our body’s internal charger, repairman, troubleshooter, and fueler. Proper sleep means we recover from our workouts, our hormones are regulated, our brains and body has rested and recuperated, and we can attack the next day with peak performance.
Sleep is so important that without it you eventually go into psychosis and die if deprived long enough.
While sleep needs vary between individuals and quality is more important than quantity, we want to aim for 7-8, even 9 hours of sleep a night spending 20-25% of that time in REM sleep. My little sleep checklist is:
Get 7-8, even 9 hours of sleep a night—give yourself enough time
20-25% of sleep should be REM sleep
You want your room cool and as dark as possible
Avoid alcohol and THC before bed—they ruin REM sleep (CBD isn’t inherently negative here)
Avoid caffeine at least 4 hours, preferably 8+ hours before bed
Avoid Blue Light at least an hour before bed
No naps 8 hours before bed, limit naps to 20 minutes
Sleep and wake up at the same times every night/morning
Track your sleep with a fitness tracker like Whoop, Oura, or whatever other trackers that displays full sleep stats
→ Hydration (I didn’t want to list this, but if I didn’t, someone would get mad)
Seriously, I’m not going to tell you the benefits of water, just drink enough and get some electrolytes.
Your body is 3/4th’s water and you’re an adult, I’m not doing this today… drink water… right now.
As stated in the first section, it’s not that the following is less important, but when it comes to overall life and optimization, if you can’t get the above right, these won’t make up for it. That shouldn’t take anything away from their importance but just keeping it real here.
→ Sunlight/Light Viewing Behavior
The sun is not only our friend in terms of supplying us with a nice tan and heat, but it is also the best source of one of the most important vitamins (technically a hormone) in the body:
Vitamin D—which is essential for a plethora of functions in our bodies, like really important ones… like hormones, bones, teeth, mood, immune system, your heart, etc., etc.
The sun and light in general is also what tells our circadian rhythm what and when to do certain things → “things” here being things like sleep, waking up, releasing certain hormones, digestion, appetite, and energy levels, essentially controlling the regulation of our daily lives—like the conductor of an orchestra.
When the circadian rhythm gets disrupted, a whole cascade of events happens which can lead to horrific outcomes like depression and even disease if not addressed.
When we view light and even what type of light has a major impact on this and logically given the original light source we developed this from was the sun, we can bet it plays a rather large role.
Ideally, we want sunlight as soon as it’s coming up/we wake up, periodically throughout the day, and then as the sun sets to signal our body the natural sequence of a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Where modern society has thrown a wrench in this is with the creation of artificial light which can disrupt this process, namely blue light which is common in most electronic screens and artificial light fixtures and has the largest impact on our circadian rhythm.
Blue light stimulates parts of our brains that make us feel alert, which is okay during the day, but as we can see causes issues as we approach night as it suppresses melatonin production making it harder for us to sleep. For this reason, it is best to avoid electronics right before bed and even utilize tools like blue light-blocking glasses when using electronics at night.
On the other end of the spectrum (literally… please laugh at my nerd humor) red light can provide vast benefits to the skin, eyes themselves, and even the brain. Red light is also a much better option for use at night as it does not suppress melatonin or increase cortisol.
While we could go on and on about different light-viewing behavior, these are the barebones issues and suggestions that are going to make the biggest difference for the average person.
→ Stress Management
Stress is the silent killer and an area where most of us could manage a little better. On a biological level, stress is known as the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is good, at times, but excess amounts wreak havoc on the body on nearly all levels.
One area of interest for most men is the fact that cortisol and testosterone have an inverse relationship. Meaning that when cortisol rises, testosterone lowers—pretty much the opposite of what any man wants and surely not optimal.
Stress is unique in the fact it is both an emotion and a physical phenomenon in which the former, whether logical or not, does not matter and will still cause a cascade of reactions that, if, happen often enough over a long time frame, lead directly to multiple chronic illnesses.
Again, whether logical or not, emotionally stressing will cause physical responses. Hence, a key preventative measure for stress is perspective on issues and literally chilling the fuck out.
One of the easiest and most effective ways of dealing with stress has to do with breathing and different breathing exercises which negate stress responses from a physical standpoint.
There are many *healthy* (key word there) ways to manage stress, but it’s something you must be cognizant of and find solutions and outlets that work for you.
→ Daily Activity
Daily activity is nearly as important as exercise being that we can only productively exercise an hour or so a day which leaves the rest of the 14-15 waking hours for us to worry about.
Literature shows us that those who walk 7000 or more steps a day have significantly better outcomes in terms of mortality—50-70% better outcomes1.
A big reason behind this is that daily activity improves our metabolic health by increasing one of the key aspects of our metabolism—NEAT or Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This helps ensure proper and healthy body composition as well as upkeep mitochondrial function.
Conversely, excessive sitting is associated with negative health outcomes, regardless of how much exercise one gets2, thus movement truly seems to be medicine.
It’s important that throughout the day you make an effort to get up and move around, periodic walks are a great way to get movement, reduce stress, and on the right days → sunlight.
Daily activity is crucial and humans were made to move and play—something too many adults forget.
This is the most common subject I get asked about yet isn’t even in the top tier of importance for optimization, hence the name “supplementation” meaning—the addition of an extra element or amount to something.
While intelligent supplementation is important and there are many safe and efficacious supplements that do in fact help optimize our bodies, minds, and life, they are very secondary to other lifestyle behaviors.
Where they become extremely useful is when our diet doesn’t allow us the means to adequately supply the body with all the nutrients we need (a real issue as our soil and thus food contains much fewer nutrients than they did historically) or when a unique herb or extract we otherwise wouldn’t consume provides benefits or solutions to any issue we might be having.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE supplements and have not 1 but 2 cabinets dedicated to my stacks, I do not rely on them as solutions to issues I am having because I am neglecting some other healthy behavior.
When it comes to supplements for the goal of optimization, this is an area I highly suggest doing your own research on and becoming educated because:
Doing it wrong can royally fuck you up
Understanding how to leverage biology and chemistry effectively can not only make life much better but also prevent, and in some cases cure, issues you may be having
While I know this is the subject many hoped I would harp on due to the title, the reality is the best advice I could give you is to learn and do as much research as you can/want because supplementation is unique to every single individual and their needs/goals.
In this section, I am mainly going over tools that aren’t necessarily *needed* but most people have access to them and they do provide great benefits for the time and effort involved.
→ Hormone Optimization
This probably surprised anyone who has been reading me for any amount of time to be listed last, but the reason being is that if we do the above correctly then this should have naturally worked itself out. While I did list hormone optimization as “Tier 3” it could very well also be listed in “Tier 1” depending on the situation.
Hormones influence everything we do in life. When things are good, life is immensely easier, might I even say infinitely, than when things are going wrong with hormones.
Hormones are the messenger of the body to tell certain parts what to do. When things are going right, everything acts and does what it is supposed to do, when things are going wrong… well then you can deductively reason that’s not a very good thing.
While people hear hormones and think testosterone, estrogen, growth hormone, etc. the reality is we have more hormones than I care to list (scientists have identified around 50 of them).
While ideally, a healthy lifestyle will lead to healthy hormone regulation, that is not always the case. For this reason, it is an excellent idea to get bloodwork done and identify any deficiencies or issues.
Once you’ve done that, the key is to attack the root cause and improve the issue as much as possible. If that doesn’t work, fortunately, science has evolved and there are many different types of hormone therapies and replacement therapies to rectify the issue.
Again, hormones are your body’s messenger to perform different actions, if they are not working well then neither are you.
→ Cold Exposure
While I think the trend of sitting in a cold tub to show how tough or whatever dudes do on Twitter is silly, from a health and optimization perspective, cold exposure does provide many different benefits for just a few minutes a couple of times a week.
When exposed to cold, our body shivers, which releases a hormone called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine can both signal to the body to increase heart rate and thus increase metabolism → it also improves cognitive function as well as an increase in dopamine.
The cold also triggers the activation of “brown fat” which as opposed to the latter part of its name actually has many beneficial impacts on our health—namely insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial function.
Cold exposure also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body which can improve symptoms of numerous ailments and pain (but also a reason to keep it away from weight lifting sessions as we want that short-term inflammation to signal for muscle growth and repair).
Personally, I do at least 2 sessions a week, and I opt to submerge in a cold tub (around 50 degrees) for around 10 minutes straight.
I do this on rest days and typically try to do it after my hardest training sessions, which would be my leg-focused training days.
If I do not have access to a cold tub, what I do is fairly simple:
Turn the shower as cold as possible.
Get in the shower for 3 minutes.
Get out and wait until I stop shivering.
Repeat for 3 total reps
→ Sauna/Heat Therapy
Last but definitely not least is the sauna.
From detoxifying us of heavy metals to increasing growth hormone, the sauna is an especially useful tool to improve our health and overall state of being.
Instead of ranting on and on, I have a free post covering the sauna here👇
Putting This Monster Post All Together
While my intention here was not to write a whole ebook, which I failed, the goal was to provide practical solutions and tools that actually make meaningful impacts and improvements to our lives by allowing us to optimize our bodies and minds on a physiological level.
While there are plenty of other tools out there, from personal and professional experience, these are the ones that seem to truly move the needle in terms of meaningful benefits. Everything laid out here was done so because it is both feasible and practical for the average person to apply to their own lives.
At the end of the day, anyone who applies the advice and activities here will be, for all intents and purposes, optimized pretty much as far as you can go before the point of diminishing returns—applying all or even most of this (in order of precedent of course) would nearly guarantee you are not only in a better physical state than 99.9% of people but more importantly as close to your best physical self as you’re ever probably gonna get.
While I’m all for all the tools and hacks, it’s important to realize that there are simply things more important than others and if you don’t do every little micro hack every influencer talks about then you’ll be fine.
Realistically, if you actually listed all of this out and applied it to your day, you’d realize it actually isn’t that much stuff, most of it flows together and works synergistically, and it’s rather simple.
That was the point.
Until Next Time,
P.S: Update coming to all paid subscriber re: the next 90 challenge and program, appreciate the patience and such during my rather unfortunate absence the last month.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.