Having recently penned 10 Rules of Resilience, New York Times bestselling author and badass brand creator Joe De Sena turns his attention to ‘Mental Toughness for Families’ as he relays his marathon daily family routine to me from his new office in Florida.
“There’s no messing about in my house,” he says. “At 5 am the lights go on, at 6 am the kids get pulled out of bed. I don’t like to be late. I don’t like to start my day behind the eight-ball. I believe you’ve got to sweat before you eat. I love getting that cold shower out of the way.”
“If you can’t manage a few miles over some obstacles, you probably don’t deserve to be on this planet”
What may sound like a painful existence to you and I, is bliss for Joe, who founded Spartan, Tough Mudder and DEKA to form what he calls the ‘house of badass brands’.
“I don’t like coffee. I don’t like beer. I don’t like to be sleeping. I don’t like to lay on a beach. I’m really lucky because I’m just wired to be productive.
“I grew up in a neighborhood in Queens, New York. I can’t think of one lazy person who lived there. It was only one mile by one mile and the local families either owned food places that had them up early working, or they were mixing cement together because the father owned a cement business. Everybody was hustling. Everybody was chasing. Bagels were being buttered at 5 am and diesel trucks were being started. You’re a product of your environment.”
“Five thousand years ago, if you and I were living in a cave and we saw a deer run by and we hadn’t eaten for a few days, and I said “Let’s go get the deer” you wouldn’t say,”Well we did legs yesterday”
There is no such thing as rest for Joe either!
“The only time I really take a rest day is when I’ve biked for twenty hours straight or done an extremely long run,” he says.
“Five thousand years ago, if you and I were living in a cave and we saw a deer run by and we hadn’t eaten in a few days, and I said, ‘Let’s go get the deer’, you wouldn’t say, ‘Well, we did legs yesterday’. It just didn’t happen! Somehow, in the 1970s, thanks to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, we developed this whole concept of training legs one day and back the next. We’re humans. Horses don’t take off from running for a day because they ran yesterday. You don’t have to kill yourself every day, but you should move and you should sweat. And I believe it’s got to be every single day.
“We’re humans. Horses don’t take off from running for a day because they ran yesterday”
“One of my daughters ran a half-marathon when she was six and the youngest one used to run with me when we lived in Vancouver for two miles straight up the side of a mountain. People were practically dead on the side of this stone staircase and little Alex would be going up with me every day on a two-mile hike.”
Joe first found fitness in the mid-nineties, inspired by his mom.
“One of my daughters ran a half-marathon when she was six”
“My mom introduced me to a run that takes place in Queens, New York, called the ‘Transcendence Run’,” he says. “It’s a 3,100 mile run around a one-mile loop and goes on for fifty or sixty days. Seeing that race as a kid somehow stuck with me. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was working on Wall Street. I was stressed and started doing hot yoga and running up the stairs in my building. I then began doing adventure races and before you know it, I became branded as this crazy person on Wall Street. Rather than drinking and partying with clients, I was taking them to run across countries, literally. I was building incredible bonds. People started saying to me, ‘Oh my God, you changed my life. I’m no longer drinking. I’m back with my wife. I lost 100 pounds’. One thing led to another and in the year 2000, I put on my very first race.”
“We had a 696-pound guy come out, Chris Davis, and do a Spartan race. We helped him lose over 400 pounds. So if he could do it, anybody could do it”
If you want to become a true Spartan warrior, there’s no let-up as far as Joe’s concerned.
“Don’t tell me you don’t have a 9-5 routine so you can’t become consistent,” he says. “Do you brush your teeth?! Even if you’re traveling or working a night shift, you’re going to have to put in some non-negotiables, because it’s just unacceptable to be given this great gift of life and not take care of it. It’s not okay to do stupid things that put yourself, your family, and as we learned in the last twenty months, put your species in jeopardy. Healthy folk perform better under COVID. It’s that simple. So, if you want to lose your job and not go outside, then keep eating chips and come up with your excuses.
“All the science shows you should go to bed as close to the sun going down as possible. You should have your last meal before the sun goes down”
“Bedtime is non-negotiable too. Don’t give me this ‘I’m a night owl’ talk. It’s all nonsense, unless your job requires that you work the night shift. We’ve been on the planet as a species for one million years. During those one million years, most of it had no artificial lighting. So, who was working at night in the cave? All right, a few people maybe were out there hunting, but by and large, when the sun went down, you went to bed. When the sun came up, you got up. That’s what we’re biologically designed to do. If you want to create a story and a narrative, it’s called confirmation bias. It’s not healthy.
“All the science shows you should go to bed as close to the sun going down as possible. You should have your last meal before the sun goes down. You shouldn’t eat right before bed. You should wake up at the same time and you should go to bed at the same time. It all depends on what you want from life. Do you want to be a high performer, or not?
“I don’t eat before 9 am and I don’t eat after 6 pm. I get three meals in, and I eat very few carbs. Salad and eggs is my perfect breakfast. Lunch is usually a salad and dinner is often fish and veg. I think a weekly cheat is okay because psychologically, we need that outlet.”
Joe insists anyone can prep for a Spartan event in just thirty days.
“Anyone can do it,” he says. “Think about what our ancestors did. They walked hundreds of miles with a sword and a shield, and then went to battle. Those were normal things that took place for most of our existence on the planet. So, to my mind, if you can’t manage a few miles over some obstacles, you probably don’t deserve to be on this planet. If you were in a car accident, God forbid, and you had to walk twenty miles to safety, you would do it. Hundreds of years ago, when humans were crossing the country in a horse and carriage, grandma maybe died along the way, or your wife gave birth. Life was tough. So, now what? If you can’t do a three-mile Spartan race, you’d better get your head checked.
“You could do hot yoga for thirty days straight then go do a Spartan race. If you don’t have access to hot yoga, you could do thirty burpees, a one-mile walk and thirty pull-ups every day for thirty days. So long as you’re moving thirty days in a row, you’re ready for a Spartan race. The human body is so adaptable. If it doesn’t adapt and get in shape quickly, you die. So long as you do the work, your body will transform in thirty days. You’re going to have to do some recovery work. You may need massage, because it’s going to hurt if you’ve been living on the couch, but thirty days is enough to get through the most basic Spartan race or the longest Spartan race. If you want to do a Beast, let’s say, which is a longer distance Spartan, you’re going to have to be out every day for at least an hour walking, and then do your thirty pull-ups and thirty burpees.
“We had a 696-pound guy come out, Chris Davis, and do a Spartan race. We helped him lose over 400 pounds. So if he can do it, anybody can do it.
“We’re the house of tough, badass brands,” says Joe. “We’ve created something for everyone. We’ve got the largest hiking series in the world, ‘Highlander Adventure’, the largest trail running series in the world called ‘Spartan Trail’, the largest obstacle series in the world, ‘Tough Mudder’ and then ‘Spartan’ events. We also created DEKA, the largest fitness series in the world. No matter what challenge you want to take on, we’ve got it covered. If you wear white sneakers and you love to be in the gym and look pretty, do your DEKA. If you’re looking to hike and get out there and do 100K, that’s Highlander. You want to run 100 miles, that’s Spartan Trail. And if you’re crazy enough to do obstacles and carry sandbags, that’s Tough Mudder and Spartan.”
Build True Resilience -Joe De Sena Style
“Zig when others zag”
“Real change starts with structure”
“Go to bed and wake up at the same time- predictability and consistency helps prevent anxiety and burnout”
“Don’t play Russian Roulette with your routine. Your brain craves and thrives on consistency. Routine will make you less vulnerable to chaos and disruption”
Joe’s Daily Routine
– yes, EVERY day!
5:00 am: Wake up
5:15 am: Morning functional workout
6:00 am: wake up the kids
6:15 am: workout with the kids, jog around the block, do sit-ups, push-ups, stretching
7:00 am: shower and breakfast
7:30 am: first meeting of the day with the team
8:00 am-4:30 pm: working, making shit happen
5:00 pm: home with the kids and quickly off to sports practice
6:00 pm: home for dinner
6:30 pm: evening workout and stretch
7:00 pm: help kids with Mandarin and math
8:30 pm: get kids to bed
9 pm: lights out
For more info check out:
MENTAL TOUGHNESS FOR FAMILIES – 10 RULES FOR RESILIENCE
Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop.org