I Feel the Need for Speed

Not sure why I ripped my headline from a movie I absolutely detest, but the quote is appropriate for what I have going on with my running.

When I first started this fitness journey I did nothing but walk for exercise for about four months. I then added weight lifting. As I gradually got faster walking I often felt like breaking into a run. I’ve never been much of a runner. One year in high school on the cross-country team hardly qualifies. But, because I had fitness goals and thought organized 5K races would be fun I picked it up.

After dismissing folks who said it was addictive and that I would “catch the bug,” I caught the bug. I have been addicted to running for more than two years now. I think about running when I am not running. Injuries – major and minor – that keep me from running anger me. I am glad that I have strength training in my life because my body can’t handle more than three runs a week and it keeps from bagging off exercise when I can’t run.

I have had chronic back problems for more than 10 years and after herniating a disc last year and undergoing surgery, my per mile pace took a nosedive after a I resumed running. I worked very hard to get in shape for a 5K last September. I had six weeks after being cleared for full activity. I ran a 30:05 race. I haven’t been under 30 minutes for a three-mile run since Jan. 4. In March of 2015, I was routinely well under 30 minutes. My per mile pace was well under 10 minutes.

My pace was steadily improving during the early part of this year and then I strained my back in May. I wasn’t able to run for about two weeks. Then I suffered a rash of minor foot injuries that forced me to take a week here and a week there.

After my schedule got in the way, I took about a week and a half off and ran three miles this past Wednesday, and four and a half today. I have my Nike+ Running app set to give me ½-mile hacks and when I am under five minutes for my first half-mile, I know it’s going to be a good run. I guess any run is a good run, but you know what I mean.

I don’t know what it is – the time off or number of days between runs, keeping up with my strength training and not skipping legs days in particular, something has my pace coming down. On top of that, I feel pretty good, especially today.

13880280_1143320122381011_8604912016051867540_nI have been trying to exercise some demons this year. I ran a six-mile route a year after I hurt my back lifting weights the same week as running that route. I ran the same six-mile route on which I had been stung by a bee a few weeks earlier. And now, this four and a half mile route I first attempted a few weekends ago and could not run non-stop because of my fitness and 94-degree heat. I made it about three miles and then had to alternate walking and running the rest of the way. Well, I conquered that course non-stop today on a 77-degree morning. And, I was fast. Well, fast by my warped standards.

My first mile went by in 9:22, my second in 9:43, third in 10:03 and fourth in 10:45. My overall pace was 10:03 per mile and I ran 4.5 miles in 45:15. A few weeks ago, I was running at 11 minutes a mile and I would have been lucky to go four in 44 minutes. It started to get very warm during my last mile, mile and a half and I slowed my pace so I could make sure I finished on a dead run without walking.

They say you should change up your course and do something different. I must admit I usually run the same three routes – two here at the house and one at the office. Now, I have four courses I can run and this fourth is very much a challenge. I want to work my way back up to including that longer run in my weekly regimen. Maybe now I am on my way back to that.

I maintain that any run is better than no run, and that any workout is better than no workout. CBS Sunday Morning ran an inspiring story today about athletes in their 80s and 90s who are still exercising, still running and still competing. One gentleman is the only man to ever run a 10-minute mile past 80 years old. If he can do it, what’s my excuse?


Don’t Ever Grow Up or Get Older

Aging sucks donkey balls.

I just turned 47, rather celebrated the 17th anniversary of my 30th birthday. I don’t know what 47 is supposed to feel like. I didn’t know what 30 was supposed to feel like either but I do know I was 30 pounds lighter back then.

The first thing you notice when you get older is how much longer it takes to heal. Cuts, scratches, bruises, sprains – things that used to take days to heal now take weeks and months. It takes longer to get back on track after recovering from an injury too. I’ve had the thought to just wrap myself in bubble wrap and never leave the house again.

You would think that after three years of diet and exercise after making a commitment to a healthier lifestyle that I would have somewhat undone 16 years of relative inactivity and 18 years of smoking. But, unfortunately, every time I hurt myself and have to take a week or two off from running, it takes quite awhile to get my groove back. My cardiovascular can’t maintain my previously attained per mile pace when I am able to pick it back up again. Just when I think I’m driving that pace back down I hurt myself again and have to take a week off.

Graphic showing my running activity June - July
Gaps in my running activity due to stupid foot injuries don’t make me happy.

And these are not catastrophic injuries. These are stupid, living life injuries. I kicked a boulder jumping into my pool and bruised the living hell out of my foot. Boom – no running for nine days. I moved the coffee table so I could vacuum and destroyed the toenail on my left big toe, blood everywhere. Boom – no running for seven days.

Back in May I strained my disaster of a back, again, and was down for two weeks.

The good news about these other stupid little mishaps is that I don’t miss any time exercising. I just don’t run. With the exception of the back strain, I still have been able to lift weights several days a week. About the only thing I couldn’t do was walking lunges because I couldn’t flex the bruised foot.

Considering I couldn’t run at all last July after back surgery, I guess I should be lucky I am running at all. Before I herniated the disc at L4L5 and needed surgery to repair it, I was down to a pace of about 9:30 minutes per mile, some days faster, some days a twitch slower. Now, I’m lucky I can turn in a three-mile run with a pace under 10:30. I don’t know if it’s my back, my stride, my cardiovascular, my age or a combination of all these things.

My weight lifting doesn’t seem to be suffering. I blame my set up and my equipment, along with my schedule and commute, for lack of significant gains. But then again, I really don’t know what my goals are anymore.

I find trying to hit my macro nutrients every day to be an onerous activity. Trying to get 180g of protein, drink 56 ounces of water, commute, work, exercise and do everything else there is to do in my life is a full-time job. Once again, I am finding so much conflicting information. To whey protein or not to whey protein. To creatine or not creatine. I’m not a “bodybuilder” so do I need to do all of this? I just feel bloated when I protein and creatine myself silly.

What’s my point? The older I get it seems like it is less about living life and more about managing it. I take cholesterol medication and fish oil every day, I try to eat right and exercise. I just don’t know what I want to be physically anymore. I don’t like hurting myself but I can only imagine what I would be like if I had not lost all this weight and become an active person.

I should be happy that I can play basketball in the street or chuck the football around without getting winded after five minutes. But there is no guarantee I won’t dislocate a hip.

Milestone Achieved

IMG_9531.PNGMade you look!

I cracked 1,000 miles running/walking since Feb. 27, 2013.

I know it may not seem to much to some, I know people who have exceeded 1,000 or 1,500 miles in just one year. They don’t have my schedule, commute or medical issues, so my 1,000 miles running/walking in the just over three years since I started using the Nike+ Running app will have to do. I was out for a run yesterday, finished just under ¾ of a mile from 1,000 and went back out and ran another ¾ of a mile to hit that number plus give me four miles for the day. It was my best run in weeks.

I have been experiencing a knee problem that I was told was left knee patellar tendinitis. The pain has migrated to different parts of the knee so I have no idea what it actually is. Well, this whole thing with my knee has caused an alignment problem or imbalance with my back. If you’ve been reading the blog on the regular, you know how bad my back is. In fact, two medical professionals have told me to quit running.

Running hasn’t been pleasurable or therapeutic in more than a month. I’ve continued my weight-lifting sessions, spent time in the pool and played more than my fair share of basketball. Running just happens to be my chosen form of cardio.

I’m not sure at what point it became “running.” When I was a kid it was called “jogging.” I’m not sure if what I do can be classified as running. But, whatever it is, it helps me relieve stress, clears my head and solutions to problems present themselves. In fact, your humble narrator is working on a novel and the ending came to me during a run.

13450151_1107595859286771_2895690082547379467_nI don’t mind weather either. I enjoy running in weather – nothing crazy mind you – but mist/drizzle, light snow and cold, heat…I almost prefer weather to perfect conditions. Last year, I ran in Denver and Kansas City in the winter, in blistering heat here in Northern California, cold and wind in Chicago.

Since I started walking and then running for exercise, I have battled a variety of injuries, some minor and a few very serious. From shin splints to back surgery, I’ve been through the ringer but each time I am determined to come back even stronger.

This past week was rough though. Fatigue got the better of me and I didn’t get all of my usual workouts in. I tried a run Monday afternoon but my knee just didn’t want to cooperate. What I accomplished yesterday was encouraging. Four miles and no real knee pain made me feel good. I still have fitness goals and I don’t think I am going to achieve them without running in my life.

I’m nothing spectacular on the running trail. My average per mile time continues to rise despite my best efforts. Every time I take a little time off from running my cardio-vascular system seems to take an inordinate amount of time to rebound. I blame it on 18 years of smoking cigarettes. Although I quit eight years ago, I know I am still paying for it. I’m carrying 10 pounds more than I’d like right now and the extra weight doesn’t help.

In the past few weeks I have made some mental notes and decisions about what I want to do and how I want to do it to achieve my fitness goals. The problem is sticking to the plan. From the protein and creatine to the lifting and the running. I just haven’t had the energy for it all the past week or so. If I want to lose these 10 pounds I am going to have to cut my calories back down to about 1,200 per day. I’ve done it before, that’s part of how I lost 60 pounds. But, I forgot how difficult it is and how diligent you have to be. If you read my last entry you’ll know that I now understand how difficult it is to keep the weight off once you’ve lost it. I am just thankful I didn’t let it get out of hand. I went back to a few old, bad habits but I eat so much less and so much better than I used to. That, and exercise is part of my daily life. Even on the days I don’t actually “work out,” I’m tossing the football around, swimming or shooting hoops.

Hopefully yesterday’s run is a preamble to being able to go back to it on a regular basis. Three runs a week was my normal schedule about six weeks ago. I’d like to get back to that. I’ll give a go tomorrow afternoon and see what happens. I enjoy it too much to give it up. I’m just too impatient to let these nagging injuries heal and it always seems like I don’t have the time, or don’t take the time to do the things to treat and recover from them.

So, as I mentioned, I’ll get back out tomorrow and hopefully I can start working on my fitness and times and finally get rid of this belly fat once and for all.

The Struggle is Real

F16882_880512648661761_9057451408468084000_nirst of all, thank you all for reading my last blog and for the kind words and well wishes with regard to my mom. She was a beautiful, special lady and I miss her very much. It was an honor to remember her here on my blog.

Another quick update – I am now on Twitter (@GetTheKnaak) and Instagram (jerryknaak). Of course, my second personal Tweet ever (after the obligatory, “hey, I’m here Tweet”), was fitness related.


On to the topic at hand.

I am a constant work in progress, hence the theme of the blog – mental, physical, spiritual. This installment is going to focus on purely physical aspects of my journey.

I have often been envious of the contestants on The Biggest Loser and the people chosen for Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition and Extreme Weight Loss. They get coached on exercise and nutrition, receive custom diet plans and get to work out six hours a day. I have also hated the trainers and concept of The Biggest Loser in the same moment. They treat the contests like gum on the bottom of their shoe if they don’t lose enough weight in a week. I have never seen such condescension. I’ve never liked the body shaming this show engages in on a weekly basis. I’m sure it’s part of the process and methodology but I find so much of it unnecessary.

I was obese. I am still technically overweight. At 5’10” tall and almost 47 years old, I probably should weigh 170-175 pounds. My BMI is just a shade north of 25. My body fat is right around 25%. I vary between 183-190 pounds right now. I lost a total of 60 pounds before putting 10 or so back on. Everything I have been reading lately says I need to lose weight and I am finally, 100 percent, unequivocally convinced that I should. I have developed a pretty aggressive exercise program (for me anyway), and although I haven’t been able to run much due to a nagging knee problem, I exercise four-six days a week and I am not achieving the results I want.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.33.45 PMThe Men’s Fitness chest and arms workouts I’ve been doing are phenomenal. Last night I was able to complete a leg workout I haven’t been able to do in weeks. I’ll get back to running soon. I got a decent three-miler in the other day in 85-degree heat. I sure do miss running.

What’s my point? What’s the analogy?

Many people have complimented me over the past couple of years after I lost the bulk of my weight. One of the most common I get involves keeping the weight off. I am very proud of myself for managing to keep it off over time. I got to 180 pounds and stayed there for several months. I couldn’t maintain my lowest, 176. The key to my success has been adopting a lifestyle of exercise and better nutrition. I had high cholesterol and triglycerides when I started. Medication took care of that after three months (more on that in a moment).

A scathing New York Times article tore The Biggest Loser apart after studying the after effects of appearing on the show. A group of contests were studied over and time and all those observed regained their weight, some weigh heavier now than their starting weight on the show. Apparently these folks couldn’t maintain the lifestyle, the amount of exercise and the dietary restrictions to keep their weight down.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 11.34.05 PMI wasn’t ever 400 pounds, I didn’t have to slash my calories THAT drastically, and I didn’t have to exercise six hours a day. I was 236, dropped about 1,000 calories a day (not 10,000) and managed 60-90 minutes of exercise per day to lose my 60 pounds. Maybe that’s what made it possible for me to keep the weight off (for the most part).

I have envied those who got the coaching and the nutrition plans. I was jealous of those who were afforded the opportunity to do nothing but exercise for weeks and months on end. All my research and my conversations with people in the know said I was doing it the right way. Slow and steady and trust the process. The rapid weight loss, no matter how you did it, wasn’t sustainable. Well, science has weighed in and that is pretty much the case. I’d like to know if the folks on cable’s Extreme Weight Loss show are able to keep their weight off. The stories are inspirational but I’d love to know the long-term success rate.

I have been watching another show as of late, Fit to Fat to Fit. Trainers all over the country gain an obscene amount of weight so they can go through the weight loss journey with their clients. Initially, the trainer enjoys eating “comfort” food and putting a few pounds on. Once they head toward obesity though, a switch flips and they can’t wait to get back to their former selves. What makes me sick is that these trainers go back to looking fantastic at or near their original weight. I’ve only seen one episode where the trainer couldn’t get back to his original weight and had to live with it and make his peace with it.

Why don’t I look as good? I weigh what they weigh for the most part. Where’s my definition? Where’s my physique?

Well, after having blood work done recently and finding out that cholesterol and triglycerides are through the roof (back on the medication and fish oil) and testosterone is low, no wonder why I can’t get lean.

I know that building muscle and having more muscle helps burn fat. And I have been focused on this aspect of the process. I am sure some of the weight I have put back on is actually muscle. Muscle does weigh more than fat. Muscle is denser than fat. Looks better than fat. Its healthier than fat. But a pound is a pound is a pound.*

nt-12-20-ceBut, the more I read and research the more confused I get. I have a pretty good idea how many calories to eat each day but I don’t know what to eat. Oh sure, everyone says eat clean, get your macro nutrients from real food, cut carbs, lots of protein. But I can’t get the protein I need every day without whey protein shakes. If I tried that with real food, I’d blow my calories for the day by lunch. Other things I read say “oh yeah, you can eat carbs if you’re eating the right ones.” And don’t forget the fat, fat really isn’t bad for you. It’s enough to make my head hurt.

I know people who have dropped a lot of weight only to gain it back. Some of those folks try again and again, while others just quit. I get it. I didn’t get it before but I get it. Science explains it. This makes me grateful for what I have been able to accomplish. But I also know there are reasons why I haven’t been able to achieve my fitness goals. Some are totally me. I like my alcohol and confections (in moderation of course). I find it difficult, a chore even to drink enough water and get enough protein every day. I need more cardio in my life. My favorite form of cardio is very difficult on my body but I would rather run than use a machine and be indoors.

For as much as I exercise and taking my diet into consideration, you’d think I’d look a helluva lot better than I do.

I’m either driven by self-loathing or a dogged determination to achieve some body image ideal. I do feel like I have a purpose but my plan is in a constant state of flux. Maybe it’s time to just suck it up and consult a nutritionist and figure this whole nutrition thing out. I do know I’m better off than those poor folks on those TV shows who couldn’t or wouldn’t maintain the lifestyle. I’ll stick to the diet and exercise and keeping the bulk of the weight off. I feel bad for those people and those like them. I guess I caught my issues in time.

I’ll never say that losing weight was easy, but now I understand why it was so damn hard.

*Got a physics lesson in the comments and corrected my mistake.

I Wish I Had Known

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, we didn’t have the Internet. We had the encyclopedia. Hell, my neighborhood didn’t get cable TV until 1981. We had four over-the-air TV channels if you count PBS. What you learned about exercise came from your gym teacher, a little league baseball coach or a Pop Warner football coach. Calisthenics. That’s what we did. Good, old-fashioned calisthenics. Jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, up-downs, squat thrusts, etc.

There was no strength training.

Never mind the cheap second-hand weight bench I acquired and the vinyl weight set I bought at a local sporting goods store in junior high. But, any weight lifting I did at that point was to impress a girl and that didn’t go over so well.

vintage bodybuilding ad advert charle atlas 1I seem to recall some sort of Charles Atlas weight training program you could send away for from an ad in the back of comic books. Some of us were more worried about sea monkeys and x-ray goggles.

If there was strength training back then it was reserved for high school football players and wrestlers. We didn’t do it for cross-country, baseball or even basketball when I played in high school. We ran and we did calisthenics. I remember jumping up and down on the balls of my feet like a human pogo stick at basketball practice. The only thing this prepared me for was the mosh pit.

I was 97 pounds dripping wet as a freshman in high school in 1983. I was just over 120 when I graduated in 1987. The Navy told me to gain weight before I went to boot camp. I needed to be 127 pounds minimum.

We didn’t do any strength training in Navy boot camp either. Oh sure, we did a lot of push-ups and sit-ups, but no weight lifting. Our physical fitness tests measured how many push-ups and sit-ups you could do in two minutes and how fast you could run a mile and a half. I was encouraged to lift weights so I could pull my weight (pun intended) fixing airplanes and such. I played intramural sports during my 10-year Navy career but never did I seriously take care of my body or look to build it in any way.

As I careen toward 47 years of age, I wish I had guidance back then. Maybe it existed and I didn’t seek it out. I have never had a chest. Maybe had I known that progressive effort with bench press and its variations would build pectoral muscles. I did have a pretty rocking stomach one summer in high school but I was riding my 10-speed all over creation that year.

I now have more information at my fingertips than I know what to do with. Between web sites, Facebook posts and my subscription to Men’s Fitness magazine, the knowledge is overwhelming. I’m sure magazines like Men’s Fitness existed back then but I never thought they were for the likes of me.

Maybe it’s because the information is so easily accessible now that I feel like I was missing out. I was never taught how to exercise. I was never instructed on weight training. I didn’t know how to increase muscle mass. What little I did in my backyard and basement in high school gave me a lot of definition in my arms and little else. I didn’t like bench pressing, I didn’t know the importance of leg day or how to work my abs beyond sit-ups. Exercise science has come a long way. I’m just glad it’s not too late for me to learn.

I am a big believer in serendipity. What you need seems to come into your life just when you need it. After completing the Shortcut to Shred program recently, I was at a crossroads. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It’s all been weight loss and keeping the weight off. Yeah, I had this weird obsession with Daniel Craig and his James Bond physique. I didn’t know how to get it. I’ve been aimless. For some reason I couldn’t commit to the nutrition part of this.

Men’s Fitness published actor Matt Bomer’s chest workout a few months back. As a big fan of American Horror Story, I thought I’d give it a shot. I have been doing this is my go-to chest workout for a few weeks now and the results are definitely visible. Another issue of that magazine gave me a sure-fire arms work out. I modified Craig’s legs workout and added Bulgarian split squats. I’ve developed quite the little six-days-a-week program that I supplement with distance running. My running is actually on hold at the moment thanks to tendinitis in my left knee, but I digress.

These workouts seem to have come into my life right when I needed them. I also had been doing a lot of reading about creatine monohydrate. Everything I read said if you are serious about building muscle and shredding fat, take creatine. It just plain works. I have been on a creatine regimen for about a week and a half and the gains are obvious. A word of warning, your weight will spike if you give creatine a try so be prepared.

I’m still what you would call skinny fat. I have to find a way to shed this fat, especially my belly fat, but my workouts are challenging and working. I have tried to up the protein. Getting what I need on a daily basis continues to be elusive. But I am better. I have cut back the alcohol consumption (tonight being an exception). No real workout tonight as my body has told me to take the night off.

Exercise has become a real passion of mine. I enjoy lifting weights and running to an extent I never thought was possible. My self-discipline continues to astonish me. I rarely miss a planned workout. This has become my lifestyle. Reading people’s social media posts about diets and cleanses cracks me up. Either you eat right and exercise or you don’t. There is no excuse for hard work and watching what you eat.

I realize that I still have a long way to go to reach my goals but I remain committed (maybe I need to be committed).

I honestly do wish I had access to this information when I was a kid or the wherewithal to seek it out. I wish I had more time to devote to this. I’ve been jealous of these seeming overnight transformations. However, in light of a recent article about how messed up The Biggest Loser contestants are after dedicating countless hours to dropping their weight and altering their metabolisms, maybe I am doing enough. I just always need to have a plan and razor sharp focus.

“Slow and low, that is the tempo.” #RIPMCA


Taking Stock, Doing More Research and Where the Hell is Everyone Redux

Me tossing a football on the beach at Half Moon Bay.
Sometimes you have to go all Johnny Utah.

You’d think after three years I would know more about my body, what to put in it and how to exercise it. Nope. I’m just as confused as ever and I have been reading again. Yeah, I know, there’s way too much information out there. The wonderful thing about all that information is that it’s FREE! Unfortunately, you get what you pay for.

I’ve been reading about what to do if you’re skinny and want to add muscle mass, what to do if you’re fat and want to lose weight and get ripped, and what to do if you’re skinny fat. Here’s the problem. I’ve been all three. Right now, I feel like I am all three at the same time, which is what is confusing the living shit out of me.

So, if you’re skinny, you’re supposed to eat a lot of a pretty balanced diet with an emphasis on protein and lift a lot of heavy weight. If you’re fat you’re supposed to burn more calories than you consume and lift light weight a lot of times to lose weight and burn fat. And, if you’re skinny fat, well, you’re screwed. You can cut and then build mass. Or you can try to build lean muscle mass and shred at the same time.

I guess in-between isn’t a bad place to be. I am back down to 183 pounds from a high of 188. The new arms and chest workouts I have been doing seem to be achieving results. Belly fat continues to be my Achilles heel. Yes, after six weeks of Shortcut to Shred, distance running and my new approach, my bell is flattening and shrinking. But, I can’t seem to find the magic bullet to kill it. I write this as I eat a piece of brioche toast and drink a single pour of Tullamore DEW Irish Whisky and a bottle of Black Butte Porter beer.

I’ve long maintained that carbohydrates were not the Devil. But I really did have to cut them way down to reach my goal weight. Some of the things I have been reading lately say eat a meal rich in carbs after a weightlifting session, after your protein recovery shake of course. What I am discovering is I think the bulk of these articles and crazy workout suggestions are for 20-somethings, early 30-somethings tops. What I need are the diet and nutrition tips and workouts for us 40-somethings – and I am not talking about Bowflex infomercials at 3:00 a.m.

I’m 46, 5’10” tall and 183 pounds. A BMR calculator says 1,782 calories per day (sans exercise) is what I need every day to maintain 183 pounds. A 25-year-old needs 1,925 calories per day. Most nutrition and exercise information I find is based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. All I know is when I get near 2,000 or exceed it for any length of time (now matter how much I exercise), my weight starts to creep up.

Something else I have read a while ago is that you should run or do cardio after lifting weights. The new thing I read says sprint work after lifting weights is the thing to do. After a pretty heavy arms lift today, I ran four quarter-mile “sprints.” Added together, I recorded my fastest mile, 7:53, since high school. Too bad I can’t maintain that pace for any length of time. I still think slow long distance is going to be a staple of my exercise regimen.

Me recreating an iconic movie scene.
Charlton Heston eat your heart out.

So, my Saturday consisted of a pretty intense biceps/triceps, forearms lift, four quarter-mile sprints, two rounds of basketball and some catch with the football. [Sidebar: the bad thing about being this active? I want to eat everything tonight] Three years ago this month I was at 218 pounds. Thirty-five pounds may not sound like a lot, but trust me, at that weight, there’s no way I could have done all that I did today in a week’s time let alone a day. I was lifting weight by that point but running was a major issue. I was still predominantly walking for exercise. Running six miles at a clip was unfathomable. Running a quarter mile was a problem. I still don’t think my metabolism is running at the rate it should be, but I also know I am still trying to undo so much damage caused by smoking, 16 years of no exercise and a sedentary lifestyle.

I wrote a blog entry last spring that one of my coworkers said last week was a favorite of his. In Where the Hell is Everyone? I discussed my neighborhood. I was out for a walk on a gorgeous spring day after back surgery and I was mortified as I discovered that I live in a ghost town. Well, I had the occasion to be outside late yesterday afternoon. Some neighbors were out getting their weekend started early. Today, I spent a good part of the afternoon outside. Aside from my neighbors thinking they are Formula I drivers zipping around residential streets, I didn’t see anyone outside doing anything. Sure, people came and went in their driveways but no one was out enjoying an absolutely beautiful spring day. With a high of 82° and bright sunshine, you’d think folks would be out doing yard work, playing ball, etc. Nope, the only activity seemed to be at my house.

NEIGHBOR, n.One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Has technology made us a society of shut-ins? Where are all the children? Are we afraid of our neighbors?

When I was a kid in the 1970s and early 1980s, we traveled in packs, you couldn’t keep us inside and our parents congregated and discussed the events of the day. Now we’re texting about what we found in our Facebook news feeds or what we were fed on Twitter. Disposable content is served via Snapchat. Seriously, where the hell is everyone? I don’t hear anything so I know folks aren’t in their backyards. They might be later this summer, especially those of us with swimming pools. Yeah, we’re still in a drought here in California but nobody was even out washing a car.

Have we become a society of shut-ins? Are we distrustful of the people next door? Has the proliferation of news stories about the Jeffrey Dahmers of the world made us that afraid of our fellow man? Are we suburbanites backyard dwellers? I have a pool in which I like to spend most of the summer. – Me, May of 2015

I must sound like a broken record at this point. Funny, that vinyl is making a comeback. I still find the lack of credible news sources disturbing. I’m sure I’ll re-visit my Journalism is Dead blog soon. My mother-in-law visited recently. We all went to the beach. I played football with my son in the surf while my wife took pictures. I recreated the final scene from the original Planet of the Apes. There were people at the beach. I just don’t understand why they aren’t out and about on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the neighborhood. I got out a Sonos WiFi speaker, kicked some 80s alternative, shot hoops with my boy. It was like we were the only people on Earth, save the wannabe race car drivers who have the good sense enough to not mow down the wannabe Steph Currys in front of my house. Our friends’ kids are out playing basketball quite often. It’s the only way I know I’m not in some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare.

I don’t get it. I really don’t.



Another Milestone Down, Some Visual Evidence and More Questions Than Answers

me triple
Better lighting helps, and a little brightness/contrast adjustment too. Today is on the left, the middle is six weeks ago, and the right is 11 weeks ago. You be the judge.

As I mentioned in my last entry I have been working through something called Shortcut to Shred – a free six-week workout program I found on www.bodybuilding.com some time ago. Exercise guru Jim Stoppani, who seems to be doing his own thing on his own website these days, crafted this six-day-a-week hell and I was determined to complete it – again. I have done it all the way through once. I tried it a few other times in fits and starts. The last time I tried it in earnest I herniated a disc that required surgery to repair during a bad form deadlift during heavy week.

I can follow a program and this one I like because it forced the muscle confusion as you go. It’s not six days per week for six week of three sets and 10 reps a set. It’ll take you from 2-5 reps and heavy weight early in the week to 21-30 and light weight on the back half of the week. The key to the program is something Stoppani calls “cardio acceleration.” You don’t rest between sets, you do 60 seconds of some kind of cardio like step-ups with a knee raise, jumping jacks, kettlebell swings, mountain climbers, goblet squats, etc.

Well, today was Day 41, the last workout of the program. It says Day 42 is a rest day. No kidding. I finished the program with 30 reps of 25-pound hammer curls. I missed four workouts during the six weeks. So of the 36 prescribed sessions I did 32. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I missed two with a head cold, one because my body said no and a fourth because of a late commute (I did workout that night, just not a program session).

Definitely making progress on belly fat, shape and size.

I feel good that I accomplished this. I’ve done the lifts off and on as part of my regular workout regimen. But this is only the second time I have completed this program from start to finish. Now, I must be totally honest here. Due to equipment limitations in my little makeshift gym, fatigue, soreness or extenuating circumstances, I did not do every rep or every set or every exercise or every round of cardio acceleration the program calls for. I did most of it though and I am proud of myself for it. I don’t feel ike I cheated myself one bit.

As you can see from the photos I look a lot better than I did Jan. 9. But from Feb. 15 (the date I started the program) there isn’t what I would call a drastic change. I wish I had changed my caloric intake sooner. I think I’ve seen the most change in the last week or two. I started cutting calories two weeks ago and I upped my protein intake. Again, I should have done this six weeks ago. Maybe the photos would show a more dramatic change. I have not lost any weight on this program but that wasn’t really the goal. I do think my legs are stronger and more defined, especially my calves. I certainly have slimmed down.

IMG_9191I have picked up the running the past few weeks after a light February on that front. After just 22 miles last month, I passed 29 with a three-mile run today. I think I have two more runs in me this month.

As I write this blog and enjoy a Deschutes Black Butte porter and Tullamore DEW Irish whisky, I am contemplating what to do next. Yeah, the booze really helps. I cut back when I started cutting calories actually. Men’s Fitness magazine has a lot of great workouts and healthy eating tips. I’m looking forward to designing my own program to see if it works for me. There are many exercises I want to try like Belgian split squats. Several people have recommended HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and Shortcut to Shred has a good measure of that built in. I need to find some that don’t involve twisting. My surgically repaired back doesn’t like twisting one bit. Bad enough I ran 17 miles this past week.

I really need to figure out my nutrition. I think that’s my biggest problem.I am much better than I ever have been but I probably need to consult a nutritionist or a dietician.

I can’t bench more than 105 until I upgrade my barbell situation, but I have room to go for dumbbell bench presses, same with pec flyes. I would really like to be able to do two-a-days. I think the best I’ve looked was last August when I was able to do two-a-day weight lifting sessions and interval walking/running.

There is a great chest workout from Men’s Fitness that I’ve done a couple of times – it’s actor Matt Bomer from American Horror Story’s chest program. It’s an ass-kicker, holy muscle fatigue Batman. There’s an arms complex in another issue and a great ab workout in a recent issue. I just need to find a challenging legs routine and I think I’ll have my program set. I definitely need more cardio in my life whether that be walking or recumbent bike on the days I don’t run. I am definitely going to continue to work on my belly fat and I am going to build up my non-existent chest.

deadI wish I could be as active as I was today every day – a three-mile run, an hour-long weightlifting session, a little football and a little basketball. A few years ago when I was approaching my heaviest weight and my most out of shape state ever, I played an hour of tackle football with my then-six-year-old in the front yard. I spent the rest of the day on the couch. As tired and as sore as I am right now, I couldn’t imagine what I’d feel like right now at age 46 if I was still 236 pounds. I know I wouldn’t have gone running or lifted weights. And a half an hour of catch with the football probably would have ruined me for the weekend. No, I don’t like 186. I liked 180 much better. But it is what it is.

As usual I have been doing a lot of unnecessary reading (and not enough necessary reading), and yes, I am more confused than ever. I have more questions that answers. But I am determined to figure this out and get the results I’m after. I can’t exercise six hours a day. I can’t live on 1,200 calories per day (I could but what the hell fun is that).

At my age, with my schedule, is getting ripped and having six-pack abs realistic? I don’t know, but I sure as hell am going to find out. Speedo season is on the horizon, you know, and I plan on being the envy of the backyard pool set. People tell me I am too hard on myself and my response is that I’ll never improve if I don’t push myself, if I don’t try harder. I don’t react well when I am told I can’t do something. But I am a seeker of knowledge and information, especially about myself. I am on a quest to test my limits and discover who and what I am and be the best whatever that is.

So keep following my faithful readers, age is but a number and the best is yet to come.

Shaking Things up a Bit

It’s been about three weeks since my last blog entry. I have been concentrating on getting through this workout program and working on a different personal writing project. I have long subscribed to the mantra, “the day you stop learning is the day you die.” I continue to learn more and more about myself and the people I’ve collected and the world I live in every day. Unfortunately, I seem to learn more ugly truths than bright happy ones.

I am not going to bore you with details. Just know that the list of people who are dead to me seems to be growing by the minute. I don’t trust people who claim to have a small army of friends. I don’t trust people in general.

Call me jaded, bitter or cynical, or all three. I really don’t care.

FRIENDSHIP, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

I only have a few true, honest-to-goodness dear friends. And I am more than good with that. That’s all I need. Ask yourself if any of your friends would let you crash on their couch for a few days out of the clear blue sky with no warning. I bet you have a lot fewer friends than you think.

FRIEND, n. An investigator upon the slide of whose microscope we live, move and have our being. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

IMG_9162In six days I will have completed Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Shred from www.bodybuidling.com for the second time. Have I performed every set or every rep? No. I have missed four program workouts in five weeks (not bad if you ask me); two because I had a nasty head cold, one because my body told me to take the night off, and the other traffic delays put me behind so I did pushups and sit-ups and called it a night. Equipment shortfalls in my makeshift gym keep me from doing everything. I can’t go as heavy as I would like, and I am never doing another deadlift as long as I live. And I am limited in what I can do from a “cardio acceleration” standpoint because of space. But step-ups with a knee-raise, jumping jacks, kettlebell swings and running in place are enough if you ask me. I’ll finish the program Saturday, barring craziness or injury. I’ll post pictures next weekend. I don’t think the before and after pictures will be that startling. I do think I have slimmed down though. The numbers on the scale don’t agree but pictures don’t lie.

The first time I did the program I had to tack two workouts onto the end. I was in the middle of it a year ago when I injured my back to the point of needing surgery. Other times I’ve tried it I have done some of the lifts and relied on running for cardio rather than the interstitial 60-second high-intensity movements the program calls for.

I’ve picked up the running, over 10 miles since Tuesday. I had been running a lot, but that head cold and some dental issues knocked me down some. I’ve hit 16 miles for the month after running just 22 in March. January was a high-water mark for me with 44.6. When I do this Shortcut to Shred deal, since cardio is built in, I don’t think I need to run or do the recumbent bike. I am sorely mistaken. The workouts do take a lot out of me, they can last as long as 90 minutes. I have to keep finding ways to push myself. I am looking forward to designing my own program. Recent issues of Men’s Fitness and the Men’s Health Facebook page have tons of great strength training and HIIT workouts. I am going to identify some goals and weak spots and attack them.

“A person is smart. People are dumb, dangerous, panicky animals.” – Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K in Men in Black

I have come to the realization that most of my problem has to do with my caloric intake. I started counting calories again. I am eating too much. So many things I have been reading lately have me even more confused. Carbs are the devil, no, carbs are not the devil. Eat this not that. Don’t eat that, eat this. I am going to take a new approach starting tomorrow. For months on end I have been trying to find a way to get at least my bodyweight in protein in grams in my system everyday. I have extolled the virtues of Isopure products mainly for the high protein content. The mistake I have been making is using the protein to supplement my daily diet rather than using it as the basis of my nutrition and building around it.

To that end, I’ll make getting 180g of protein in my system, by hook or by crook, every day. I’ll eat regular food around my protein. Three 50g gram shakes, two scrambled eggs and a Greek yogurt gets me to 187g. Three shakes are 66o cal, the eggs about 170, the yogurt 120 – that’s 950. That gives me room for a good lunch and dinner. I weigh between 185-188 right now and my body needs about 1,800 cal per day without exercise to maintain my weight. I just need to plan ahead.

I really cut calories this past week and there was a noticeable difference. More and more material I read, and the more people I seek advice from, or offer unsolicited advice tell me the same things – if I want to cut my body fat I need to cut calories and drop some weight. I had forgotten how to lose weight. I lost 60 pounds and I had forgotten how to do it.

I got as low as 176 and couldn’t stay there. Over the course of a year, I have gained as much 12 and as little as nine depending which day I of the week I weigh myself.

I am nowhere near where I want to be. I have no doubt I will get there. After a mini-epiphany this weekend about diet, exercise and unfortunately people, I am more determined than ever. And you know what, I feel sorry for anyone who gets in my way.

The bottom line is that you have to find what works for you. I’m still looking. There is no magic bullet. There are no magic pills. I read an interesting article a few days ago about why crash dieters fail. It’s because although they see quick, easy results, they don’t develop long-term habits that lead to sustainable success. They are more likely to binge eat when the opportunity presents itself. When I was younger I didn’t believe in moderation. There was no fun in it. I always drank too much, smoked too much, ate too much. Now I get it. Many times a taste is all I need. I don’t need or want the whole damn thing.

I’ll let you know how the protein and the cutting calories thing goes. I’ll craft a new program at the end of the week. I have a de-loading week on the horizon. It’s almost Speedo season and I plan on looking damn good for a 46-year-old suburbanite. Some would say I already do.

Another Stark Realization and Information Overload

From left to right: Jan. 9, Jan. 24, Feb. 15, Feb. 21 and Feb 28. Definitely slimmer through the middle and starting to lean out.

When I started this three years ago, the one simple truth I knew and understood was that when you get stuck, switch things up. Work harder. Change the routine. All the experts say to change the workout every four to six weeks. So, when the holidays were over, I took a hard look at what I was doing and what I looked like.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not obsessed with the number on the scale anymore. Yes, I weigh myself a few times a week, and yes, I’ve put a few pounds back on. I’ve been hovering around 185 for months after getting to a stable 180 and staying there for quite awhile. I have no doubt that my muscles are retaining water because I’ve been pretty religious about exercising four to six days a week. I am more concerned with burning fat, building muscle and looking and feeling better.

One of the problems with this is the amount of information available. Once upon a time, it seemed like only gym teachers and sports coaches had the information necessary to train young people for sports. In my high school, good old-fashioned calisthenics were how we got in shape. From jumping jacks to sit ups, pushups and everything else in-between, paired with suicide sprints on the basketball court – this is how we got in shape as kids. I didn’t play football or wrestle so I don’t know how much strength training there was going on.

To get in shape for cross-country, guess what we did? We ran. We ran 30 miles a week. We ran quarter-mile sprints on the track for passing practice and finishing kicks, but for the most part we just ran. I played baseball and basketball as well. Okay, I rode the bench, but I was on the team.

I have been bookmarking tips, tricks, workout videos and more from Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness like crazy lately. When I got down to my goal weight the question became, “what now?” I decided then I wanted to carve the marshmallow. At 46, and still carrying around about 45 pounds of fat, I want to shred and get lean.

I want to be proud to wear a bathing suit this summer. Don’t worry folks, my Speedo days are long gone, not that there were ever Speedo days. I want to have the best 40-something body in the neighborhood. Hell, I want the 30-somethings to notice.

I already look better in my clothes. I wear men’s medium again (sorry to rehash). But my stomach isn’t flat. It is getting there as I am getting to my point.

More than person has suggested HIIT (high intensity interval training) to me and I have read in many places that this is a great way to burn fat and boost metabolism. After trying one HIIT workout that involved a lot of twisting movements, I almost gave up on incorporating this type of exercise into my routine. This caused me to take another look at www.bodybuilding.com’s Shortcut to Shred program. Six weeks, six days a week with HIIT concepts built in. The creator, Jim Stoppani, calls in “cardio acceleration” but the high intensity interval stuff is built in as between set interstitial intervals. Even though this is the program I was doing when I blew out this disc in my back (I’ll never do another deadlift as long as I live), I decided to give it another try. I have completed the program all the way through exactly once. I was in week three when I got hurt and I started it with the cardio acceleration one other time but only made it a few days. I’ve done the lifts without the cardio acceleration as well.

I am now two weeks in. I start week three tomorrow. Don’t worry, no deadlifts. The pictures don’t lie. Between running more than 65 miles since the first of the year, making adjustments to my eating habits and starting Shortcut to Shred, I am definitely slimming down.

I was asked recently if I am keeping up with my workouts and I had to laugh. My response mentioned weight lifting four to six days a week and running at least three days a week.

Running could be the key to my back pain however. I haven’t been running much lately for a variety of reasons and I have had more decent days than bad days. A stupid head cold came roaring back so I had to skip two nights this past week. I found a HIIT workout that didn’t have any twisting movements in it and I did it as a second session yesterday. My hip is a little sore after 20 minutes of kettlebell swings, goblet squats and shoulder presses. I’d like to trade my distance running for sprint workouts. Some information I found this past week says distance running presents the same issues as indoor machine steady-rate cardio. I run because I like to be outside and I hate machines.

The funny thing about all of this is what the different communities have to say. The weight loss people say eat less and cardio, cardio, cardio. The weight lifting folks say muscle, muscle, muscle, protein, protein, protein. The cross-fit people say, well, the cross-fit people are just plain nuts. I was taught to eat five to six small meals per day. Now I’m reading that three squares a day and a protein recovery shake after the daily workout is sufficient.

All I have managed to figure out is there is way too much information at our fingertips and that everyone is different. Once of the reasons I got out of shape in the first place was I no longer had a sport to train for. I was no longer on a team. As adults, we are left to our own devices and whatever habits we develop along the way. I was blessed with a super fast metabolism for much of my life. I never knew when it was going to slow down and I sure as hell didn’t plan for it. So, my advice to you is never get out shape, learn good eating habits and adjust your caloric intake based on your age and height and weight as you go. I recently learned that I only need about 1,800 calories a day if I don’t exercise. I can get to that by lunch if I’m not careful.

I think I am on a productive path. And if I feel like that perspective has changed, I’ll switch up again. The one thing I can’t seem to shake is that I’m running out of time. Maybe that’s because I keep watching these shows where people lose 100 pounds in a year, train six hours a day and seem to have boundless energy. The bottom line is most of the before and after photos are lies, you’re not going to look like Joe Weider and this shit is hard work. But it’s worth it. And one day, not today, not tomorrow, but one day I’ll like what I see in the mirror.