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10 Questions for Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield Ironman swim

Vasa’s founder & CEO, Rob Sleamaker, recently had the opportunity to interview Ben Greenfield. Ben is a coach, author of the New York Times Bestseller “Beyond Training“, speaker and the owner of He is also a highly respected endurance athlete. Ben Greenfield’s balanced approach to fitness, nutrition, and health comes from his extensive experience in the fitness and wellness industry as one of the country’s leading personal trainers and wellness consultants.

Rob asked Ben 10 questions that tap into his expertise, life hacks, and overall approach to training, facing fear, and challenges in life.  Ben discussed his current fitness interests, training methods and his highly efficient use of the Vasa SwimErg as part of his regimen.  

Interviewing Ben Greenfield

Rob Sleamaker:  Ben, you have an extensive and impressive background in triathlon.  These days, what sports & fitness pursuits are you excited about?  Do you have certain goals that you would like to share with us?

Ben Greenfield:  Rob, there are some quotes that I like to live life by. For example, Theodore Roosevelt’s man in the arena quote is on the coffee mug that I drink from each morning.  I also have this quote that opens up my computer each morning when I wake up.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

While I have certainly not checked off everything I just listed, it highlights the fact that I really do like to live life as an experiential adventurer, living life as fully as possible, experiencing as many things as possible that fall into my value system and that challenge my body, mind and my spirit.

I was an ironman triathlete for 10 years, then I moved on to a new chapter, adventure racing and now I’m getting very much into hunting and spearfishing and who knows, 2 years from know if could be golf! My goals are based on the fact that I consider life to just be a series of moving targets that come your way and there is a great book about this called Just Enoughwritten by 2 top Harvard professors (by Laura Nash & Howard Stevenson).

I don’t have a 10 year plan or a 15 year plan, I just look at opportunities and experiments and adventures that arise and I go out and I do them and live life not wanting to be pinned into the corner of having done the same thing all my life but instead having experimented and experienced as much a possible. Based on that, those are some of the things I’m excited about right now.  For non-sporting endeavors, I’m excited about singing and songwriting. I’m really trying to become better at the ukulele and the guitar. I don’t practice as much as I should, but I’m working on it. I’m working on a book of fiction right now. I really want to get more involved with volunteering in my local community and giving back more because I think that is important and I don’t think I do that enough so those are some of the things I’m focusing on and I’m just trying to become a better person. I know that sounds woo-woo, but I really want to become a much more loving and generous person.

Rob: The idea of “reverse engineering for success” is compelling, and not just for swimming or triathlon —it works for life. What’s your secret?

Ben: My secret for reverse engineering for success..I’m going to bastardize your question because I don’t really know what reverse engineering for success means.  I know Tim Ferriss, for example, has the concept of taking a problem apart by starting with what you got at the end of it and working your way backward.  But I guess I work more on this idea of being productive every day in little ways. That book of fiction I talked about, I write for just 15 mins a day. I’m not one of those guys who does big huge mondo workouts, and I workout just about every day, 365 days a year, in little chunks. I stop and do 100 jumping jacks there and 5 pull ups here. I write in spurts and sprints. Every single day I live by a rule that I must create at least one piece of art and by that I mean one piece of content, whether that is an article, audio or something that helps someone out and keeps me inspired to keep delving in and learning more and more about biohacking, and anti-aging and fitness and nutrition and body performance, and brain performance and the things I really have a passion for.  So for me, it is consistent productivity every day in small chunks. That is how I achieve success. I suppose you could reverse engineer my NY times bestseller “Beyond Training” as just a series of little pieces that I worked on each day. Each chapter was just a little piece I worked on each day and over the course of a year and it culminated in a 500-page so it’s small consistent steps each day.

Achieving fulfillment

Rob: What have you learned about achieving fulfillment in work, family & sport?

Ben: The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that after awhile, and sometimes it takes a few years, crossing the finishing line is not enough, it’s not fulfilling. I’ve learned that even viewing a race or an event as a journey, not a destination right? It’s all that training and all those workouts with friends and all that nature you experience with the wind going through your hair as you ran and even that is not fulfilling and not the end result of the work, family, and sport. What I’ve realized now is that for me, it’s about inspiring people. I think one of the reasons I’m here is to be a beacon to serve as inspiration. To help people to not only get out of couch potato mode but to inspire people to greatness. To go out and climb their own personal Mount Everest. So now that’s where I achieve fulfillment. When the going gets hard, I know other people are watching and if I quit, they have permission to quit. So I can’t quit. I can’t settle for something comfortable and unscary. When I was doing the ultra beast yesterday I wasn’t doing it for the finish line, I was doing it to inspire my kids, my fans, my followers, I wasn’t just doing it just to challenge myself or because the journey of workouts was so great leading up to the race. I was doing it ultimately to help all those people who I know are watching me and depending on me for advice and to continue to inspire them to do what it is that they dream about that’s big.

Rob: Time is our most precious, non-renewable resource. What do you tell people who have minimal time for training? (i.e. difficulty getting to the pool consistently)

Ben: Every little bit counts. I’m actually going to throw a few at you, Rob. Every little bit counts and it really is true. Me doing 5 pull ups every 2 hours over the course of the day. Well, you can do the math, that amounts to well over 250 pull ups each week. Get through the first 2 minutes is another one. When it seems hard and you don’t have enough time, just get through the first 2 minutes of something. Do 30 burpees and those 30 burpees might lead into 100 jumping jacks, 5 extra pull ups, and perhaps a 500-meter sprint because you found out ‘hey I don’t just have 2 minutes I have 10’… and that stuff adds up so get at least 2 minutes done.

When you have the option to go long or hard, go hard. Research has shown that you can build mitochondrial density and endurance with brief spurts of intensity just as much as with volume. My entire program, my triathlon dominator program is based around the concept that you can complete an Ironman triathlon in under 10 hours with just 8-10 hours of training per week. It’s how I cracked the code of Ironman and it’s all based on high-intensity interval training combined with… and this is important..not having your butt planted in a chair 8 hours day.  Living an active, hunter-gatherer, gardener-esque lifestyle where you are just walking all day and on your feet and moving. When you do that, the high interval training session is the cherry on the cupcake at the end of each day. Fitness adds up quickly, even when you don’t have time for 3-hour runs or 5-hour bike rides or hour-long swims.

Rob: Triathlon & open water swims can be daunting.  How will quality physical training help people experience powerful emotional breakthroughs?  

Ben: I’m going to be honest with you.  I think that fitness can help you feel good in the water.  However, some of the best swimmers I know get scared when the water is dark and deep and there’s chop and there are sharks. I think that you have to overcome that type of stuff through techniques like visualization, progressive neuromuscular relaxation, neuro-linguistic programming, hypnosis, and some of the more advanced mind training techniques. Fitness and superior physical fitness is not going to help you out in that type of situation. I had one girl who I once coached and we would just visualize for almost half an hour.  Before we would get in the water, we would just relax, contract and relax our toes, move up to the calves and relax our calves, visualize the color blue and floating in a peaceful body of water.  And finally, when all of that was done, we would just do that while in our wetsuits laying on the edge of the beach at Liberty Lake where we were.  Then we would finally get in the water and I would train her on how to open water swim and it all had to do with the mind. I understand that is not going to sell Vasa Trainers, but that’s my opinion, that’s quality mental training, not quality physical training.

Ben’s training with the Vasa SwimErg

Rob: How does consistent training with the Vasa SwimErg increase strength & confidence?

Ben: Well here is what it does. It teaches you form which is super important for efficiency, for economy, and for not sucking air in the water when you are swimming.  Because swimming, out of all the sports – biking, running, even weight lifting – is the most dependent on efficiency and economy.  So if you can learn to swim with good form, like the Vasa teaches you to do – high elbow, open hand, correct body position, feet together, long body, etc. – then you actually do move much better, more freely and easily in the water. That helps you both mentally and physically.

The other thing it allows you to do is train a lot. I keep my Vasa SwimErg in the gym next to my office and can go in there and can swim 500m every day. I can go in there and swim 500m 3x a day between phone calls if I wanted to. I can do a 10x 50m sprint before breakfast. I don’t have to get wet, I don’t have to drive to the pool, I don’t have to wash the chlorine out of my hair, swing my arms like I’m getting ready to jump in the water, or if I’m a woman, I don’t have to put makeup on, again. There are all sorts of advantages to having the ability to just do it. It’s the same advantage as having a treadmill in my office. I can just run anytime. With the Vasa, I can just swim, with good technique, anytime.

Rob: Indoor Erg training is not always as inspiring as being in the water.   How do you structure your Vasa SwimErg workouts so they are effective, interesting and motivating?

Ben: I’ll tell you exactly what I do – this is my unique approach. Not only do I occasionally hop on there in the manner I just described – that concept of greasing the groove throughout the day – but I also work it in as a circuit to my workouts.  Meaning I’ll do deadlift, 100m on the Vasa SwimErg, then do some squats, then run 2 mins on the treadmill in my office, then do barbell cleans, then back to 100m on the Vasa SwimgErg, then a walking lunge, back to the treadmill in the office. That’s one method I’ll use.

The other one I like to do is I’ll set up my indoor bike trainer next to the Vasa and I’ll do, for example, a 1 mile aerodynamic sprint on the bike, and then I’ll hop on the Vasa and do a 100m – 200m Freestyle on the Vasa and go back and forth – bike trainer to Vasa SwimErg.  So I like to do short sprints and I like to do them circuit style. I don’t ever swim a 3km or 4km just on the Vasa –  that’s just not the way I do it. The longest I go on the Vasa is 500m before I’m working in other intervals.

Rob: Describe your favorite swim-at-home workout, please.ben greenfield bike lift swim workout

Ben: One that I recently did that I really like is a mash-up of lifting, biking, and the Vasa.  I do a 5 min hill climb on the bike trainer, 2.5 mins in the saddle and then 2.5 mins out of the saddle.  Then I hop off the bike and I’ve got a kettlebell next to the bike, so I do 30 kettlebell swings.  Then I go over to the Vasa and I swim a 200 on the Vasa and I try to maintain a stroke rate of 50 rpm, (so close to 100 if you were to double that for swim stroke count.) So I’m really focusing on rpm whereas I’m grinding on the bike, I’m doing rpm on the Vasa and I’ll repeat that for 40 mins or 45 mins, I’ve even done that for an hour and it’s a real barn burner for fitness. I don’t have a name for it, but you can pick one if you want.

(Editor’s Note: Let’s just call it Ben’s Barn Burner workout!)

“Fear is natural” – Ben Greenfield

Rob: How do you deal with fear and use it to build “in your bones” confidence? How can people use that to break through and access their real power?

Ben: Tough question. Fear, you must realize is natural. If you weren’t afraid of something it wouldn’t challenge you.  If you weren’t afraid of something it wouldn’t make you better.  If you weren’t afraid of something it wouldn’t make you break through a fitness plateau.  If you weren’t afraid of something it wouldn’t challenge you mentally.  If you weren’t afraid of something it wouldn’t make you a better person unless you actually went out and did it. Right?

We can all bench press the same amount in the gym, swim at the same intensity, bike the same bike route, and run the same trails every single day of our lives.  We would be getting something done, but we would never really be challenging our primal instincts to go experience survival, battle, discomfort, and all the things that go along with that and how those make us, as Nassim Taleb would say in his book Antifragile. So in my opinion, you embrace the fear. You understand that it is natural and not only is it natural, but it makes you a far better person when you embrace it.  You face it, you run with it, or in this case, you swim with it.

Ben Greenfield KonaLearn more about Ben Greenfield here: