Fitness Friday

Growing up, I was always “the stocky one.” Even though I was taller than my brother, and skinny by any definition of the word, he got to be “the skinny one.” I was wider. More “solid.” I would have been a great gymnast, had I allowed myself to pursue that, because I have that kind of body. I’ve never struggled with weight by any stretch of the imagination. I ran track in high school (100m and 200m sprints), and in college I ran two half-marathons – one in under two hours (which was my only goal).

You can imagine my surprise when six months ago, I got on the scale and found it at an all-time high – nearly 160lbs. Now, I know that isn’t that high, but you need to understand that that is FORTY POUNDS heavier than when I started college. FORTY. POUNDS. That’s a small child.

I had no idea I was gaining weight. I mean yeah, my jeans zipper wouldn’t stay up. And those sweet slim-fit Calvin Klein khakis were now dangerously close to Spandex. And yeah, my body when flexing looked – at best – like “normal” a year before. But it had happened so slowly I didn’t notice.

Luckily for me (yeah), I got some kidney stones soon thereafter, and lost five pounds as a result of drinking nothing but water for nearly a month. This quick weight loss was enough to get me through the next couple months, but as summer dawned, I realized some things.

1) I was GOING to float the river this summer, and I was NOT going to do so with a shirt on.

2) I was going to SCOTLAND, where I would be wearing a suit that was now un-button-uppable, and meeting a bunch of new people. And finally…

3) I was turning TWENTY FIVE, or as a medical student once described it: The Age at Which We Start Dying.

So yeah, I was feeling pretty motivated. I started going to the gym. At first it was an hour every couple days. A quarter-mile run here, a three mile bike ride with no resistance there. But before long, I was going every day. And then it was two hours a day, six days a week. I was lifting weights. I was going to yoga. I was in a really rigorous spin class. Even some light kickboxing. And over the course of the summer, I’ve lost ten pounds. I’ve gone down more than one belt loop (but less than two – so far). The sleeves are getting tight on my shirts, and I can wear those slim-fit Calvins again. I make protein shakes and count my calories (most of the time). I’m a total gym-rat now. So, I just thought I’d share some strategies that can probably work for anyone.

1) Join a class. 

By far the best thing I did this summer was join my cycle class. It’s only 45 minutes, but on average you burn 650 calories! 800 if you’re really pushing it! I would have to run for well over an hour to get that kind of burn.

Yes, the class is hard. I sweat buckets. Seriously, it looks like I’ve peed my pants every time. But it’s just sweat. Attractive, I know. I’m red in the face for the next hour, and my legs feel like jelly the next day. It was no fun at all – despite the ROCKING techno soundtrack – until about the beginning of the third week (so like only the fifth session). I knew how to adjust the bike just right. I knew to sit in the front (so I could be closer to the fans). I had padded bike shorts. And I knew the people around me. Not well, obviously, but we recognized each other. Exchanged pleasantries. I was no longer the new guy. I was a regular.

And that feeling of being a regular made all the difference. Feeling comfortable, and KNOWING that I could get through the class – because I had done it before –  enabled me to really have fun. When the teacher was yelling to turn up the resistance for the sixth time in two minutes, I could smile rather than hang my head in that awesome blend of fear, defeat, shame, and determination.

Ultimately, going to a class motivated me ten times more than I could have motivated myself. There is no way I would bike that intensely on my own, right between the ladies on the ellipticals and the televisions. I’ve made friends, and I feel accountable if I skip, because I know someone noticed. So whether it’s a spin class, a running group, or this one class that is a terrifying mix of dance, kickboxing, plyometrics, weights, and torture, GO! The only thing you have to lose is your dignity. And weight.

2) Cardio

There’s a guy at my work that talks about two things and two things only: sex he is totally making up, and working out. He’s one of those guys that ONLY lifts weights, and ONLY upper body. There is no way this guy would work out his legs, because those are covered by pants and you don’t (typically) show them off to impress Teh Ladiezzz. Homeboy eats TONS of protein to power his weight lifting sessions, and never lets us forget it. Only problem: He really just looks fat.

Now I’m sure he could out-lift me by at least 100 pounds. He’s got the strength. But there is NO definition at all. It’s just formless mass. As John would say (and did), he just looks “doughy.” I told him he needs to do more cardio. He of course refused, because cardio “isn’t working out,” according to him (to which I lovingly replied “yes it is and that’s why you’re fat” [I just OOZE kindness you guys]).

Anyway, the moral of the story is: CARDIO. Run! Bike! Swim! Play basketball! Anything to get your heart rate up. If you’re not doing cardio, you’re going to end up with a doughy shapeless lumpy body, instead of tone. And according to John, tone is WAY more important than mass. Apparently having both is preferable, but tone “catches the eyes.” I can’t believe I am typing this.

3. Don’t focus on the scale!

I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those people that HAS to weigh himself every day. Which is really stupid, because some days you ate a bigger breakfast than normal, or you’re retaining water, or you just haven’t pooped. And more often than not, I end up demoralizing myself because I’m not seeing instant results.

In fact, for the first two months of my new exercise regime, I barely lost a pound. Seriously. For eight excruciating weeks, that needle hovered just above 150 lbs., no matter how much I worked out. It was INFURIATING. And then I went to Scotland for a week and a half, and had no access to scales. And when I got back, I was down a few pounds.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that ignoring the scale is the best thing you can do. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. And I’m not saying that the power of denial helped me break my 150 pound plateau. What I AM saying is that I didn’t really NEED the ego-boost of dipping into the 140s to know I was benefiting from all this work. I should have been content with my pants suddenly fitting better. I should have been content with my stomach no longer pooching out. I should have been content with my sleeves getting tighter.

So, and I know you’ve all heard this before, but try to gauge your success by how much better you feel. If you sleep better. If you wake up with more energy. If your clothes fit better. Not in pounds.

4. Don’t be afraid to take a break

As I already mentioned, I went two months hardly losing a pound. It wasn’t until I took a break that I saw more measurable results. Sure, some of that might have been the stress of only getting eight hours of sleep over the span of about three days. Or the hours spent hiking up mountains and trudging through cities. But I’m sure that some of it was also due to the fact that I wasn’t lifting weights. I wasn’t spinning on a stationary bike. I wasn’t running on a treadmill, or anywhere else. My poor tattered muscles needed time to recover, and they finally got it.

So, every now and then, give yourself a break. Take a few days off running, and just walk for an hour. Get off your bike and maybe play in the pool. Go to a spa for a day. The key is not to do nothing for too long. Do nothing for a day, or do a lighter work-out for several days. Give yourself a chance to be re-invigorated, re-inspired, and refreshed.

And that’s all I’ve got for you this glorious three-day weekend. Grill out, eat a ton, sleep in. Get some work done around the house and play with your kids. But don’t forget to get active. In the long run, it can only help you.

Happy Labor Day guys.


One Response to Fitness Friday

  1. Bravo. And yes, I will take some credit for helping you. I would say, the only thing you should mention is nutrition. If you eat junk and garbage (not literally, but like donuts, pizza, ice cream, ALL carbs, and the list could go on and on and on. . .) that is no bueno and even if you work out lots you will still look “doughy” but again I say Bravo.

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