My Love Hate Relationship with Running

40554446_1929070970472585_1579221588832681984_nWhen I first took up exercise and healthier eating and living five and half years ago, I started with walking. I tried to walk at least three miles per day but I got bored with it and lower leg injuries started to get me down. Four months in I turned to weight lifting as well.

A family friend who is an avid runner told me that I was going to catch the bug. I told her she was nuts. I enjoyed a nice bit of humble pie with a side of crow when I had to admit to her that she was right. I had caught the running bug. I started with my standard, pat distance of three miles. My dearest friend, who just happens to be a cross-country coach, and former cross-country teammate of mine, told me I better switch up distances and pace or else wasn’t going to get any better.

Over time, I gained an appreciation for running. It became therapy. It became an idea incubator for my fiction writing. It became a sanctuary. Me, my music and residence in my own head. I ran a few organized 5Ks and I was building up to bigger races.

When I hurt my back in 2015, one of the toughest parts of recovery after surgery was not being able to run. I busted my hump to be able to get back to it and even had a 5K to train for to keep me focused.

A 2014 run in England hatched an idea. Normally, I travel a lot for work, as I have chronicled in this space. So, my regular readers will recall that I set a goal to run in every city I visit. The first year, I missed a run in Detroit because of the flu, the second year, I missed a run in Denver because I had the flu, and last year I hit them all, including Mexico City for the second year in a row.

The last run of the year and of the travel schedule was in Los Angeles. After that I must have felt like I had accomplished something. I no longer had the fire or the energy to run. I washed my hands of it.

Now, I hadn’t become a marathoner, hell, I haven’t even tried a half yet. I never managed to run an organized 10K either. My longest run to date is eight miles in Baltimore. In five and a half years, I have logged nearly 1,400 miles walking and running using the Nike Running Club app. I know that mileage is some people’s one year total, but I’m pretty sure I have logged 1,398 more miles than a lot of people.

I tried to pick running back up in March. Back pain, fear of injury, cardio-vascular degradation because of lack of running, tight quads and a terrible pace kept me from getting back to it on a regular basis. My last run came along the beach in Carlsbad, Calif., during a vacation back in June. That was more “Jerry wants to run on the beach in Carlsbad” than “Jerry is running for exercise.”

But I suppose that has been the point all along, right? Enjoy it. Run in different places. Experience the world through a different lens. I had forgotten that.

After that run in Los Angeles, you could say I fell out of love with running. After today, I won’t say I have fallen for running again, but it was a good first date.

And oh by the way, in case you had forgotten …

…I still run this town.

Struggling with Fitness Motivation

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Yours truly after a 4-mile run last weekend.

Since January 2013, I have only truly struggled with the motivation to exercise and eat healthier a few times. Usually the onset of disillusionment has accompanied an injury or setback of some kind, never the lack of results. Conventional wisdom and everything I read says to keep at it and the results will come. I’m not so sure anymore.

I have been known to read too much when it comes to research. I have written of information overload in previous entries. Most of the time I can’t make heads or tails of the information I consume. I read Runner’s World and Men’s Fitness. I spend time on numerous web sites from Men’s Health to bodybuilding.com. You would think after four years of better nutrition and consistent exercise, I would be seeing better results. You would think after four years I would understand my body. You would be wrong.

I have been a proponent of what I believe to be a simple truth. The body doesn’t need as many calories to subsist as we think it does. That being said, my calorie ceiling, no matter how much I exercise, seems to be pretty low. I have a FitBit Charge HR. I know how much I sleep, I know my heart rate, I know approximately how many calories I burn each day. Either I am lying to myself about how many calories I take in each day (I am horribly inconsistent with MyFitnessPal and logging my food), or my metabolism is much slower than I care to admit.

Actually, what’s crazy is the calorie burn estimates from each app you use. The Nike Run Club app says yesterday’s run burned 572 cal., while Smashrun says 761 cal. FitBit says 690. According to FitBit, I burned 3,106 cal. yesterday. I know I didn’t eat that much, but I guarantee you if I got on the scale this morning, it would have showed an uptick in weight. If that was the case, and knowing that you have to burn more than you take in to lose weight, you’d think I’d have this licked.

To recap – I once weighed 236 pounds. I lost 60 to get to 176. I put four back on and stayed at 180 for several months. I was quite happy at 180 pounds. Then I hurt my back. Even after surgery to repair a herniated disc, I stayed at 180 for some time. This was summer 2015. By January 2017 I have put about 20 pounds back on. November and December 2016 were bad for me. I backed off my running, I exercised three to four days a week instead of five to six, and I ate more holiday comfort food than I should have. Over the summer, I ate more backyard cookout food and drank more beer than I should have. From July on I took on a new hobby – podcasting – to go with blogging and working on my first novel.

Since the first of the year, a bout with the flu not withstanding, I have been back on my game. I have been running more often, especially of late, and I am back to five to six workouts per week. Trusting the process has been my mantra from the beginning and I don’t know what that process is anymore. I have forgotten how to do this. I don’t even know what to do anymore. I don’t know what to eat, how much of it to eat. I don’t know what workouts to do. I don’t know what not to do either.

I belong to a Facebook group affiliated with Jim Stoppani, an exercise scientist who has his own line of supplements. The group, known as the JYM Army, consists of people of all ages, shapes, and sizes and walks off life. Many post transformation photos. Instead of being inspired to achieve, I am jealous. I’m envious. And worst of all, I’m disgusted with myself. I know what I want. I know what I want to look like; I know how I want to feel. And I just don’t know how to do it.

The past few weeks have been frustrating. I have seen a little movement on the scale in the right direction, which is undone quickly. I am in a constant battle with needing to manage my life and wanting to live it. I used to get frustrated when my weight loss efforts stalled. But I never really considered giving up. My eyes were always on the prize. As I drove toward it I always thought the definition would come, the body fat would slough off. I figured I would build the body I always wanted while I did this.

But I think the past two weeks have seen my first real cracks, my first real thoughts of wanting to quit. I see people who have lost weight and gained it back and never go back to diet and exercise. I guess either life got in the way or they just said, “screw it.” I don’t want to be that person. Yet, despite my best efforts, I gained 20 pounds. And I’m debating being that person.

I lift and I lift and nothing seems to change. My belly fat is back in abundance and my muscles never seem to grow or define. I get a little stronger and I’m probably stronger that I ever have been, but that’s not good enough. My battle with the poster on the wall seems to be unwinnable.

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Same route, two years apart, and I’ve lost six minutes total run time, and a minute and a half off my pace.

I’m 47 years old. The one thing I have figured out about this 1969 rambling wreck is that backing off is the kiss of death. If I don’t maintain the five to six days a week of weightlifting and 10-15 miles a week of running, my fitness level goes right down the drain. The worst part about that is getting back to where I was, which gets harder as I get older. It wasn’t that long ago when I was able to consistently run 10-minute miles on three- to five-mile runs. I never could maintain than on a six-miler. I’m trudging along at 11-minute miles now. Sure I can turn in a sub 10-minute mile, but I can’t maintain that pace. Carrying 20 extra pounds can’t be helping. Two years ago I was running four miles in 38 minutes. Now? 44 minutes. I am an ex-smoker but I quit damn near nine years ago. I know that it takes 15 years to undo it, but you’d think my cardio-vascular health would be better than it is. Granted, I have not been able to get my speed back since back surgery.

My new problem is mystery quad pain and tightness I’ve never had before. I used to suffer from shin splints. Quality running shoes with plenty of cushion solved that. Now I wonder if my new running shoes are causing the quad problem. My new weight bench has a built-in squat rack and I am squatting more weight that I ever have. Maybe that is causing my quad issues. Who the hell knows? We’ve established that I don’t understand my anatomy.

Maybe I’m not sticking to anything long enough to get any real results. Getting enough protein on a daily basis is a constant struggle. I’m good once in awhile. But I forget my discipline and I don’t stick to it. I forget to make a shake, or miss the window to drink one. I don’t eat enough animal protein during the day because I don’t want the calories. The JYM Army and Stoppani tell you screw the calories, it’s about losing inches and fat and building muscle. I would say, “yeah, that’s great if you’re 25,” but the are 50-somethings in the group that look like professional bodybuilders. And for me, and my body, eating to fuel muscle growth and workouts is not what works for me. I just put on fat. I never shred.

Maybe it’s low testosterone. I have been tested. It is a bit low. Not catastrophically low, but lower than it should be. Maybe that is what’s hurting me. I read an article in the March 2017 Men’s Fitness that said people with sleep apnea shouldn’t take testosterone replacement because it could worsen the symptoms. It’s bad enough I thought losing 60 pounds would cure the condition only to find out I am stuck with it for life, only to read that something that would help lose weight, build muscle and provide numerous other benefits could also hasten my demise.

It seems like I am constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place. I think the added weight has not only hurt my running ability, but has also exacerbated my symptoms. Evening fatigue would be the most glaring. I have trouble getting up in the morning. During my last visit with the sleep doc, my CPAP machine was adjusted to help with that.

This week, I’ll try something new. I’m hardheaded I guess. I don’t know when or how to quit. But I do feel like for the first time since I started four years ago that there’s no point to it. That no matter what I do I’ll continue to gain weight no matter what I eat or how much I exercise. And that simply won’t do.

Time to Reset the Mechanism

cbe9caa6_9ecc00fd_ed08_4397_856e_026310109756Weight is a sneaky thing. It creeps up on you when you least expect it. It appears in the strangest places. It makes your clothes tight and increases your appetite. It’s fed by apathy, inattention and distraction. If you’re not careful, you’ll wake up obese.

Just over four years ago I woke up obese. A victim of lethargy, opiate entertainment, stress and fatigue, I had put on a disturbing amount of weight. After reflection and contemplation, I hatched a plan and was determined to rectify the situation.

Opiate

Noun

3. Anything that causes dullness or inaction or that soothes the feelings.

I figured out how to incorporate exercise into my schedule and I resolved to eat better and less. For the most part I was successful. I lost 60 pounds, shrunk several inches and had to replace my wardrobe with smaller, better fitting clothes. Throughout the process many people remarked that they were amazed that I was able to keep the weight off. It took 11 months to reach my first major goal and another several to reach 180 pounds. My lightest weight was 176 and I was quite pleased at 180. I loved the way my clothes fit; I had swagger and confidence.

hungry05This journey has not been smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination. Two surgeries, including back surgery, shin splints, strained muscles, and numerous aches and pains have dotted the map along the way. Back surgery took place in May 2015 and I was able to maintain 180 pounds throughout the recovery process. However, when I resumed exercise, I began to gain weight. Slowly. A half a pound here, a half a pound there. I’ve never really got too far off track with my exercise. Sure, an injury or a strain here or there, work or family commitments knocked me off the path temporarily but never for very long. It’s always been my diet that derailed me.

From the day I quit smoking in 2008, nutrition has either been my enemy or my friend. I’ve read this comment in numerous places with a few variations and I believe it wholeheartedly – you can’t outrun or out-exercise a bad diet. In a recent Good Morning America story on Oprah Winfrey’s latest victory in the battle of the bulge, statistics reveal that many people regain lost weight after two years. Well, I’m right at that point and unfortunately I have regained almost 20 pounds from my fighting weight. The scale read 198 today. To be fair to myself, I just went through a one-week creatine load-in phase, which results in water retention. But, that’s only a few pounds.

The GMA piece is eye opening. The “lower third” graphic does not specify how much weight is regained, and implies “all.” I’ll never cross 200 pounds again, I’ll never climb back to 236, ain’t gonna happen.

Although this weight gain has snuck up on me, it’s didn’t take five years for me to notice this time. It took a few months. And I think I caught it in time. I have written previously that I was back in weight loss mode after discovering that I had put on a few pounds. It may seem a bit hypocritical for me to proclaim that now. But that’s what I’m doing. It has to happen. There is no not doing it.

So, what happened? How self-aware am I? Well. What I can tell you is that, starting last summer, I got complacent with food and alcohol. I have never been one to drink a whole helluva lot but between pool parties and entertaining, I ate too much and drank too much. This carried into the fall and into the holidays. Eventually, I got off track with running. You can read all the bodybuilding web sites and magazine you want and they’ll all tell you to avoid steady-rate cardio. They’ll all tell you the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is better. They’ll all tell you strength training is the way to do. Some may tell you that some cardio is okay or necessary. Runner’s World magazine tells runners that they need strength training.

It’s all a racket. This one will tell you that you need 1.21 gigawatts of protein a day while they try to sell you protein powder. The other one tells you you need to run while they try to sell you Air Zoom Max Glide Trip-Its with mink uppers and gold soles to help you run faster.

I have covered information overload previously and it is real. I love the fact that information is available at my fingertips, but it can be a bit much to get through. What you have to understand is that we are all different. What works for me may not work for you. I am 47, I smoked for 18 years, I was obese, I have high cholesterol and triglycerides, and I have sleep apnea. My metabolism is my own. My body composition is my own.

My favorite comedian Lewis Black once ranted about health. His point was that we are all different. My point is that I need to go back and look at what I was doing when I was successful. And I need to adopt the philosophy that the nutrition I use to lose weight has to be my nutritional philosophy forever. That’s where this whole thing went sideways, that’s the rub, that’s where it fell down. The graphic on the GMA piece read “set-point” theory was the reason people regain weight. What does that mean exactly?

According to mirror-mirror.org:

“Set point is the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Set point theory holds that one’s body will fight to maintain that weight range.

Everyone has a set point and, just as you have no control over your height, eye color or hair color, you also have no control over what your set point will be. Your body is biologically and genetically determined to weigh within a certain weight range.”

Other sources indicate that it is possible to change that set point. And, I think, I changed mine for quite awhile. However, I had changed it for the negative. Fortunately I was able to change it again in the positive direction and that helped me keep the weight off for a year and a half. Now, my set point has changed again. My body wants me in the 195-200 range. I disagree. It is time to reset the mechanism and this time, I can’t forget one of my mantras. Your body doesn’t need as many calories as you think it does. Especially as you get older.

img_0471I have my own definition of “set-point.” I thought I was done. I thought I was at “set-point” in the game. One more and I win. You bust your ass to lose all the weight you want to lose, you get to your goal and you think you’re done. Or, you can back off. You think you can have that cookie, or that brownie, or a second piece of pie. I had to force myself to learn moderation. I lean toward the higher end and that has led to this weight gain.

I consume information on these topics and even though I don’t follow everything I read, I think some of this information has seeped into my consciousness and affects my eating habits. The exercise web sites and magazines will tell you about fueling your body, especially to work out. Then there’s the information about macronutrients and ratios of fat, carbohydrates and protein.

I think that if I lift weights and run enough that I’ll burn off what I consume. I must grossly overestimate how many calories I burn each day despite tracking this data with my Fitbit Charge HR. As I mentioned, I have not gotten too far off track with exercise in the last four years. Good nutrition and exercise are still an important part of my life. Yes, I indulge. Yes, I drink.

img_0464So, after trying to get back in the habit the last few months, I have had a great two weeks of weight lifting sessions. I haven’t missed a workout in two weeks. Twelve really good lifts in 13 days – Sunday is my rest day. I got a non-stop three-mile run in today. My last two runs were terrible. I can’t tell you the importance of good running shoes, and after almost 300 miles the spring in my Asics Kayano 21s finally sprung. After several days of shopping I finally settled on Asics Cumulus 17s. My first run in them was good from a shoe standpoint. They certainly solved my lower leg pain problem from my last two runs.

Now, today’s run was not good. I can’t lie. It was slow and painful. I guess that’s what I get for running the day after legs night. But it was non-stop and it was a good first step in getting back to my running regimen. The weight I’ve put obviously has an effect on my running. The weight also might be affecting my sleeping as well. Afternoon and evening fatigue have reared their ugly heads and I think the extra pounds are affecting sleep apnea events.

As proud of myself I am for getting the past two weeks done in my little gym, it is merely the beginning. All that swagger, all that confidence, and all that machismo I had? Gone. My competition with the poster on the wall? The poster has landed a few haymakers of late. I hit the canvass. But you know what?

I’ll get back up and I’ll keep coming.

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.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

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After another emotional blog, this one a Father’s Day tribute to my dear departed dad, it’s time to get back to my regular topics of discussion. As I mentioned a few blogs ago, I am now on Twitter (@GetTheKnaak) and I also joined Instagram (@jerryknaak – it’s private so you’ll have to request a follow). After much consideration, thought, consternation, hesitation and various neuroses, I have decided to start a podcast. I’m sure I’ll have to wait for Apple’s approval to get it posted on iTunes, so you can listen to it here.

 

I didn’t mention it in a blog because I didn’t want to make a big deal oout of it, but I strained my back about six weeks ago. I managed all of seven miles walking/running in the month of May. My neurosurgeon had a month wait to see him so I sent to see my primary care physician. She wrote me three wonderful prescriptions and I was feeling better in roughly two weeks. This latest strain came roughly a year after back surgery. I thought these spasms were behind me but I was careless while lifting a 50-pound barbell. I hadn’t been awake long, I didn’t bend my knees, and lo and behold, a strain.

The month of June was a decent month for exercise for me. I ran 26 miles over the course of seven runs. I would have had a better month running if I didn’t have to take eight days off thanks to a badly bruised foot. I swear, if I didn’t have bad luck I wouldn’t have any at all. I was jumping into my pool the Saturday before Father’s Day and I kicked a rock. I have lived in this house for almost eight years, I have jumped into the pool from that spot countless times and I have never kicked that boulder before.

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Taken last weekend, belly definitely flattening out.

My foot swelled up and eventually turned four shades of purple. After picking up running again the one exercise I had trouble with was lunges. I couldn’t flex my foot on the downward motion. It’s still sore but today is the first time I have been able to do lunges since.

 

I enjoy working out on my few and far between days off. I can sleep in, I’m not rushed, and I can lift when I feel like it. During the workweek I am beholden to a strict schedule and regimen because of my hours and my commute. It’s nice to just crush without having to worry about it.

I am not sure what has been happening the last two months or so. As you can see from the photos my stomach is flatter than it has been in a long time. It looks and feels like I am leaning out. I see it in some places and feel it in others. The crazy thing is I haven’t lost any weight and I’m not eating any more or less. I suppose I’ve been eating a bit more “real” food lately.

Several articles I read recently said that it takes calories to burn calories. Other articles say that you can burn fat and build muscle at the same time. Something is working although it is time to switch things up workout-wise. The chest – legs – arms six days a week with runs sprinkled in seems to be working for me.

In the latest issue of Men’s Fitness, there is an article about a seven percent body fat regimen. I am looking forward to reading this and seeing if there is anything I can adopt and incorporate. As avid readers of this blog would now, I am not one for shortcuts. I believe in diet, exercise and hard work. However, I won’t say no to any advantages eating differently or trying a different exercise program.

Hopefully the month of July will be a good one for me as I continue to create the body I want. Hopefully I won’t strain my back, sprain a knee or kick any more rocks as I try to get three to four runs in and six days of weight lifting per week in.

I hope you enjoy the podcast. If I can get it approved by Apple I’ll let you know how to subscribe and Get the Knaak on the go. For now, Soundcloud is the place to be.

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).

IMG_9186-side
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.