I enjoy sharing with friends my dietary and lifestyle changes and how they have dramatically impacted my well-being, my weight, and my body composition.
By making some simple but important changes to how and what I eat, I have dropped over 20 pounds, lost five inches in my waist (measured at navel), and reduced my body fat from over 20% to somewhere between 12% and 14% (depending on how measured). My abdominal suprailliac skinfold (a good spot to do a spot body-fat measurement) has hovered at 6-8mm for some time now.
I have also begun to make some changes to my fitness routine that I thought might be of interest. I have been seeing good results, mostly in terms of terms of strength gain and well-being. (Note that nutrition is far more important for seeing weight and well-being goals — you can’t exercise your way out of a carb-heavy, Standard American Diet . . . at least, I can’t.)
First, I should share my “default” fitness behavior. For decades, I have been a runner. That is really the first fitness activity I ever really enjoyed. I have run marathons and in the past few years have basically been running at a “maintenance level” where my default distance is 5 miles at about a 9 minute pace, maybe three times per week.
In the last few years, I have learned about what effective fitness routines can look like, and I have come to learn that long, relatively slow runs do not produce much beyond general maintenance. I used to think I was accomplishing something when I went out to run ten miles on a weekend. “Put those miles in,” I would tell myself. But no. It wasn’t working. At least, not in my case.
So I have been researching and learning . . . and I thought I would share what is working for me.
One of the most important parts of my physical activity (one thing I would never give up), is yoga. I do yoga at least three times per week at Down Dog Yoga, which is a power yoga style inspired by Baron Baptiste. When I am traveling in Dayton, which I do almost weekly, I practice at Practice Yoga. Yoga has made me strong and flexible. More important, practicing yoga regularly has helped produce that all-over good feeling that means body and mind are in sync.
Working Out With A Trainer
Another thing that I have come to love — and hope never to give up — is that I am now working with a personal trainer. No, it is not cheap, but if you are someone who is prioritizing wellness and fitness, it can definitely be worth it. I have sessions about twice per week with Grant Hill, founder of My Bootcamp. We meet in a park near my home and do a range of high-intensity exercises. Sprinting, kettlebell swings, firehose slams, burpees, climbing things, crawling, and more are all part of the menu. (See this post for more on working out with Grant.)
Strength training is a new thing for me. I have always been one of those “runner guys” — skinny chest, strong legs, wiry frame. It’s just my aesthetic. But I know I ought to have a more all-around good physique. The problem is I am put off by the machismo in the weight room at the gym and have always felt uncomfortable there.
But in my recent research, I have become convinced that strength training will produce body-wide results that go far beyond just getting fancy muscles, so I have decided to put in the effort. Thankfully, latest thinking suggests that the way to get the kind of results I want is NOT to go pump a gajillion reps for a gajillion sets.
No, the routine I use relies on a small number of exercises, that work multiple muscle groups. I’m not building pretty muscles, I am going for strength. It turns out the best way to do that is to do compound barbell lifts. So, two or three times per week (with 2-3 days rest in between), I do either Workout A or Workout B, alternating:
- Workout A: Squats; Pull Ups; Overhead Presses.
- Workout B: Squats; Deadlifts; Bench Presses.
I do each exercise in 5 sets of 5 repetitions, except pullups which is five sets each to failure (I do pull ups until I can’t do any more), and the deadlifts, which I usually do 3 sets of. I try to lift at the very maximum that I can — the point is to stress my muscles until failure, which triggers my body to secrete hormones that cause me to add muscle and gain strength.
I didn’t know how to do any of these exercises when I started out. So if you are considering it, don’t be scared. Start with light weights to get your form down. Before you go to the gym and try, get the book Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. Study it. Then you should be fine.
So far, I have not told you about any “cardio” conditioning. I don’t run any more, and I never use the treadmills or cycle machines in the gym.
Instead, I do high-intensity full body exercises that exhaust me. Typically, that means I will do a “Tabata” after a weight training session.
These things are a killer. Invented by sports physiologist Izumi Tabata, the idea is to pick one all-over cardio exercise. Some people use running, or cycling. I do plyo-burpees (which is: squat, push up, jump up).
A Tabata is this:
- 20 seconds of all-out effort on the chosen exercise. I mean, hit it HARD.
- 10 seconds rest
- Repeat for a total of 8 times
This four minute routine generates fantastic cardio gains, and is tough enough that (if you go hard like you should) you can only do it maybe twice per week. I usually do a “mash-up” of two Tabatas, typically kettlebell swings and burpees. So it looks like this:
- 20 sec kettlebell swings
- 10 sec rest
- 20 sec burpees
- 10 sec rest
- Repeat all of the above for total of 8 cycles.
The mash-up is twice as long as a regular Tabata (it’s like two mashed together).
I will keep folks posted on how it is going!