Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me.

Several years ago I had a notion that it would be fun to be ripped just once in my life. I thought that doing an Ironman would result in that idealized body but instead I transformed into the triathlete frame – a door. Flat and narrow front and back, square and boxy shoulders to hips. I got my body fat to just under 10% and I felt great about myself. Six months after my Ironman and I feel as though I’ve become a whale. I’m only eight pounds heavier than my Ironman weight but I’m certainly a higher fat percentage. Body composition is much more important than the numbers on the scale – what is making up the mass is much more important than the mass itself and presently it feels as though my mass is made up of several bars of Plugra.

In two days I am participating in the Long Beach Urban Fitness Challenge. My cousin Chris has been doing plyometrics on the beach for several months and he’s dramatically changed his body. He grew up surfing and was always a fit, active person. He took up running a few years ago and has been doing very well, recently finishing his first marathon in under five hours while his dad was dying of cancer and his training dropped off. I’ve watched his body change as a result of plyometrics and strength training and frankly, I’ve been jealous. I even started looking at the P90X system! Chris signed us up for the LBUFC as a four-person team, with two women he knows rounding us out. We have no idea what to expect from the race, the details are mysterious. There is a kayak portion, a bike section, and cumulatively 10 miles of distance. The rest is a surprise. I am hoping not to die. It has been the kick in the ass I’ve needed to start a real strength training program.

For the last few years I’ve been aware of the weight and strength training I should have been doing and wasn’t. The key to injury prevention and strength building is a consistent training program involving weights and resistance bands. I had been going to Jill Miller for weekly bodywork. This fit under injury prevention but wasn’t doing anything about working the complimentary muscle groups necessary for overall fitness. Doing 10-15 hours a week of running, biking, and swimming felt like plenty of exercise. Strength training just felt like too much.

What is “ripped” anyway? In my mind being ripped is seeing balanced muscle definition with a low body fat. I’d even say that having “six pack” abs is being ripped. From where I am now just having shoulder caps would be nice. I don’t know what any of this even looks like on me and I’m hoping not to move the goalposts as I work towards something new. Moving the goalposts is a classic logical fallacy in argument, setting the target for victory and then moving it when it’s clear that victory is lost. Some people would say that finishing an Ironman means I am more fit than many of the bodybuilders going into the gym day in and day out. I can roll out of bed and run a half marathon in a respectable time without much difficulty. I can swim a mile or more in the ocean regularly and I can bike 50 miles comfortably with minimal fuel. I would agree if endurance was the only measure of fitness. And yet, even with all of that, the body type that can do all of those things is not what I thought mine would look like.

Recently the scale reported back I was close to 190lbs, a number I never wanted to see again. Thankfully it was only briefly, but it still told me that my weight was rising and it felt out of control. I could see it on my face and my stomach and it was affecting my self image badly.

From my point of view I have a roll of belly fat that has never gone away. At my leanest I still had a small roll and the area over my kidneys pushed out over the top of my jeans. With a few more pounds on me I still have a “muffin top” that makes me crazy. I wear a small t-shirt because my shoulders are small. When I wear a medium the shoulder seam hangs too low and the shirt doesn’t fit. A small t-shirt is snug at my midsection and is tight across the chest. My chest is unbalanced because I have underdeveloped pectorals and tightened pec minor. A lot of my shoulder rotation, rotator cuff, and arm muscles are the result of 25 years of working on a computer keyboard. Being an overweight kid means my abdominal wall was never developed properly and I have a weak back. After working for several hours in front of a computer it’s plainly obvious from the exaggerated posture as a result of exhaustion: I am curved forward in my posture, rolling my shoulders in, hunching over, and releasing my abdomen. Biking in the aero position is an exaggeration of the shoulder roll but requires core strength to maintain power over time. Thousands of miles of biking was built on a poor foundation, which could be one reason I am not getting faster on the bike.

Years of being told to do strength training, of Jill prompting me to “do my homework”, reading about it in every issue of Runner’s World, Bicycling Magazine, and Triathlete Magazine, and finally being on the other side of an epic endurance event and still struggling with body dysmorphia I decided to implement a plan. I went through my books, magazines, and resources and designed a 5 day training plan of 30 minutes of weights and strength training. I emailed it to Coach Brian and Jill for their notes and made some tweaks based on their input. I wanted to make sure that each day could be done in 30:00 or else I knew I wouldn’t do it. Anything more than thirty minutes would feel like too much of a commitment and I’d let it slide.

There is still much room for improvement, especially in combining moves into compound actions. That is to say, both Brian and Jill pointed out doing bicep curls was kind of silly. It doesn’t serve much purpose and is 5% of a short workout. They are right. Arm strength is derived from triceps and deltoids rather than biceps. As I discover better compound movements I’ll upgrade my movements. However, after three weeks of doing this 5 day per week plan I am seeing small but noticeable results.

After the second week of this plan I went to the Sunday ocean swim and did a mile in Manhattan Beach. For the first time I can recall I was able to swim in the ocean without feeling my left side fatigue and sustain bilateral breathing the entire mile. In the past I’d pull strongly to the right as my weaker left side fatigued and gave out after ten or fifteen minutes. It could have been psychological or it could have been the workout regimen. That is the joy of placebo.

Body fat and fitness gains are thoroughly tied to nutrition. For the last few months I had been attempting to follow Bob Seebohar’s Metabolic Efficiency plan, but it required not eating any whole grains whatsoever. I found this was impossible in my life. I’m certain that Seebohar is right, that his method of periodized nutrition works. I was not able to sustain it and kept getting frustrated at resetting my diet plan every time I accidentally ate a whole grain. Therefore I am going to switch back to the nutrition plan that worked well for me before my first half Ironman race two years ago. That was still a regimented, structured plan, but it worked and I was able to maintain it quite well. I think going back to what worked is the best choice.

Here is my five day workout plan. It uses free weights, resistance bands, elastic straps, and my door gym. I own a “Body by Jake” door gym that has pulley points at the top and bottom for different exercises. The resistance goes from 25 to 45 lbs on each hand or ankle strap. Exercises were pulled from Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune Up system, Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance books, issues of Runner’s World and Bicycling Magazine, and Active.com. Presently I work with 15lb weights for most exercises but am moving up to 20lbs quickly for a lot of the work. I already have a lot of workout equipment because I thought that buying more stuff would inspire me to work out. It didn’t. All you need is a few free weights, an exercise ball, maybe one resistance band. All in, maybe $50. Even now I am trying not to buy a barbell and weights for lifting. It’s $100 and takes up a lot of space and frankly, I don’t need it. Besides, it’s not going to lift itself.

DAILY WORKOUT PLAN

Movement prep every day:

Leg cradle 10 reps each leg

Knee hug 10 reps each leg

Standing Y’s

MONDAY (swim arm/shoulder focus workout)

Bicep curls – 8-12 reps

Overhead extensions – 8-12 reps

One-arm curls (use inside thigh, rest opposite arm) – 8-12 reps

Exercise ball tricep extension – 8-12 reps

Shoulder rotation w/resistance bands – 8-12 reps

Push-ups – 15 reps

Lat pulldown on door gym – 8-12 reps

Shoulder flossing w/exercise band – 8-12 reps

Sitting crunches – 50 reps

Reach & roll on ball – 8-12 reps

Repeat entire set 2 more times

TUESDAY (leg focus)

Resistance band monster walks – 8-12 reps

Squat with weights – 8-12 reps

Plank on elbows – hold :30

Side plank – hold :30 – both sides

Mountain climber with hands on exercise ball (rapid running leg lifts) – 50 reps

Romanian dead lift (free weights) 8-12 reps

Resistance band ankle twist inversion & eversion

Forward and back dorsiflexion & plantar flexion

Ankle strap on door gym outer leg kick, rear kick, adductor kick – 8-12 reps each

50 situps

YTU leg stretch in a corner

Repeat entire set 2 more times

WEDNESDAY chest & abs

Dumbbell squat press – 8-12 reps

Exercise ball bench press – 8-12 reps

Door gym punch lunges – 8-12 reps

Lateral lunge to overhead press – 8 – 12 reps

Bicycle – 50 reps

Downward kettle bell chop twist – 8-12 each side

Resistance crunches – 50 reps

Lie on ball, lift opposite arms – 8-12 reps

Lie on ball, reverse crunches – 50 reps

Bridge lifts – 8-12 reps

3 x 0:45 cobra pose

THURSDAY (swim arm/shoulder focus workout)

Overhead extensions – 8-12 reps

Exercise ball tricep extension – 8-12 reps

Shoulder rotation w/resistance bands) 8-12 reps

Push-ups – 15 reps

Lat pulldown – 8-12 reps

Resistance band rotator cuff pull – 8-12 reps

Forearm plank on BOSU – :30

Side plank on BOSU :30

Opposite side plank on BOSU :30

Reach & roll on ball – 8-12 reps

Repeat entire set 2 more times

FRIDAY (leg focus)

Resistance band monster walks – 8-12 reps

Squat with weights – 8-12 reps

Plank on elbows – hold :30

Side plank – hold :30

Mountain climber with hands on exercise ball (rapid running leg lifts) – 50 reps

Romanian dead lift (free weights) 8-12 reps

Resistance band ankle twist inversion & eversion

Forward and back dorsiflexion & plantar flexion

Ankle strap on door gym outer leg kick, rear kick, adductor kick – 8-12 reps each side

50 situps

Repeat entire set 2 more times

YTU Full leg stretch series (leg openers)

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3 responses to “Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me.

  1. Love this!

  2. I wish you plenty of luck with this. As with so many things, you seem to have done as much preparation as humanly possible, and show enough determination to give it a go. You already beat most of us on those terms.

    I have never been ripped, most of the time I am splitting at the seams. So to speak.

  3. Hi there I just want to drop by and say cheers for the knowledge on this page. I mysteriously ended up here after reading up on a bunch of celeb physical fitness stuff over on Google… guess I sort of lost my focus! Anyhow I shall be returning in the future to check out your blogposts down the road. Regards!

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