Friday, February 5, 2016

Starter thread for 2016

Edited for some context, in case anyone saw this before Facebook.

Mid-December 2015, I came home from a business trip with symptoms typical of flu. January 2016, I contracted new symptoms typical of a sinus infection. My sleep was interrupted often, but my lifting was not hindered when I could rest. The problem was coughing for nearly four weeks. Mid-January, I discovered an inguinal hernia, confirmed by a doctor.

The earliest surgical referral available is February 16. I've had to cancel a business trip and scale back my exercise to bodyweight only. I've been looking for a plan/excuse to focus on upper body work for a while. Even that's limited by the lack of abdominal bracing. I don't mind sharing the recovery process, as it would be equally obvious to just stop talking about squats.

So this is where it gets funny. This overlaps with my company's annual wellness challenge, which is mostly about recording cardio and calories. I set a 10lb weight loss goal, and the little app set me a calorie estimate that's a meal and a half below my usual maintenance diet. Two rounds of antibiotics has stripped my gut, so I'm losing weight every hour (so to speak). I'm down 5lb in the last 10 days, still coughing, and ten days out from referral. I'll track my recovery here as it goes.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Open season on 2016

Happy New Year, a few days late but nonetheless sincere. I came home from a December business trip with something akin to flu, then passed it around the house. My first symptom was I couldn't get out of bed. Seriously. I pulled myself up around 10:30 to message my boss (different timezone) that I couldn't work today, even from home. I spent about two days on the couch under the dog's blanket. For nearly a month, no matter how many hours I was down, I couldn't get up in the morning. I'm finally just getting over that.

I did post a set of 2015 resolutions on Facebook a year ago.

I don't usually bother with New Year's resolutions. But, if I were to make a list this year:

Gain 5lbs and make it stick
Finally take up drinking
Win-or-quit my sport
Start practicing guitar


I'm up 11 pounds and stable. I have actually grown tired of the extra eating, and staying above 160 instead of 159.2 has become really difficult. I'm muscular, no doubt, but I'm just a little fatter than I like.

I did not learn alcohol. Honestly, we don't get out as much as we used to, and the bartender-friend who lived next door has moved. There's a big difference between me learning to appreciate different drinks among knowledgeable friends and me drinking alone at home. It was neither convenient nor important. Maybe this year.

I quit kettlebell sport, and I feel better for it. I'm almost as strong as I was when I had been powerlifting in a barbell gym for 2 years. It bothers me that my maxes aren't higher, but that's not why I exercise. It can't be, for my health's sake. My shoulders are great, and I need a whole new closet of shirts.

I wish I practiced guitar more. It'd justify me buying more guitar gear.

Finally, I've grown a real interest in sport weightlifting, but I do not have the facilities or the budget for a membership and coach. So I'm doing weightlifter's GPP: front and back squats, power cleans and barbell rows, handstands and dips. My shoulders have never been better. I'm a little heavy, and I haven't run well since I got sick, but I can run. I'll let some weight drop off in February and see how it feels. It may even help my sleep.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tis The Season For Excuses

'Tis the season for excuses, is it not? "The Holidays" has come to include this autumnal ritual where people resign themselves to putting on 10 pounds and breaking all their good habits, then making New Year's resolutions to lose the 10 pounds again. The sheer elegance of the system impressed me, and I felt compelled me to share some of my favorite holiday gym excuses. Enjoy, and may your several upcoming holidays be happy and safe.

The Cold


I run with my dog, a short-haired breed with nails that curve downward if not tended regularly. I generally do his nails outside, which is inconvenient. And, running a short-haired breed in freezing temperatures is questionable at best. Honestly, my cardio suffers all winter long, right through the December Holiday 5K and the upcoming 4mi trail race in January, which must be scheduled explicitly to burn off gravy. What does not suck in the winter time is bundling up in my $7 Russell fleece and spending an hour in the squat rack.

The Food


I love turkey. I love football. Eating a turkey leg with my bare hands in front of a football game is a Christmas gift in itself. Fortunately, the lack of cardio and abundance of squats makes the winter feast days a prime bulking season. I put 12lb on my frame and 20lb on my squat last time I spent the winter under the bar. Then, my company has this annual Wellness Challenge in February where people get points for doing cardio, tracking meals, and losing pounds. So, I have an organized 4-week cut to get lean again once the weather starts to turn. Awesome!

The Fluffy Shame Of It All


You take just Thanksgiving week off, and you return to the gym with no stamina and no energy. Everybody else is quicker and leaner and oddly much younger after your three-day absence. The inertia of getting started is a deal-breaker for a lot of people, requiring that we internalize some truths about ourselves and our view of ourselves.

I'm too old, and I started too late. Gyms are full of 20-somethings, exercising like it's part of some elaborate mating dance. But for every man my age in the gym at 6am, there are a thousand more hunched over, stumbling into their day on ibuprofen and caffeine. I am forging ahead through my forties, outperforming the version of myself from my thirties. I am not challenging the 20-somethings; I am challenging time itself, like some gymno-physicist superhero.

This takes too long. Most people take 40 years to reach age 40, then want to be 35 again in 4 weeks. Change takes time and consistency. Chances are that you got overweight over a course of 10 years. You will not reverse all that physiology and build a new you in 3 months; think more like 3 years of hard-fought change and a lifetime of new habits. None of the reasons that you're in the gym today play themselves out overnight.

Everyone else is better than me. Yes, they are. I have accepted the notion that someone in this gym today can outlift me. I also have friends who are national and world medalists in their sports, whom I will never outperform, ever. The point of surrounding yourself with superior people is that you rebrand your inferiority as your room for growth. This is why trying to lose your fatness before going to the gym in front of the skinny people never works. Shame is bottomless. Acceptance is a foundation. I know I'm not the best, but I will never see myself as the worst again. There's simply no excuse for that.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What is useful

Over the years I've taken interest in sports whose athletes appear to be specialists at what they do. Gymnasts and rock climbers for upper body. Weightlifters (the sport, not powerlifting) for lower body. Boxers and kickboxers for whole-body quickness. Boxers also run for conditioning, but running is boring. Trail running, those people are crazy. 30-mile races in the mountains, some of them tethered to two Siberian Huskies. If you want to compensate for the boredom of running, be a dog sled. The point is that you may not be able to define physical artistry, but you can know it when you see it.

Bruce Lee famously said, "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own". That can be hard to do in a formal sport, but it's easy to do when you train simply for your health. There are, in a sense, best ways to exercise different movements, and they're not all with the same implements.



Any good day is enriched by heavy squats, so these were two sets picked out of today's 5x5 session. I've been doing 5x5 at 195, 83% of 1RM. I'll practice this for another session next week, then test a move up. I've been walking out partials with 265 to acclimate to the feel of a heavier bar. It's a matter of time before I do sets with 225 and get that "two plates" notch on my belt.