Tag Archives: beachbody

Raising the Bar

Getting back to writing about my fitness goals…

I had intentionally stopped writing about these particular goals for a long while.  In fact, my plan was not to mention the subject again.  There’s only so much one can write about when it comes to a lifetime of trying to get in shape.  And failing.

I have had the benefit over the years of a number of resources yet never felt confident that any of the information I received was either worthwhile or accurate (in other words, it wouldn’t deliver the results I wanted to see).  In particular, the past four years I’ve been leeching off the training advice of a coworker who generously tried to help whenever he could.  The problem, it turns out, was me.  I always had some kind of excuse.  Sometimes it was valid and oftentimes it was not.

About three months ago, having completed the Insanity Max:30 program from BeachBody and having taken a subsequent Christmas break and some time off for the death of my father I committed to BeachBody’s BodyBeast program.

The program started out great.  I spent three weeks using fairly light dumbbells in what the program’s trainer calls the “Build Phase”.  That is, you build yourself up to the next phase by learning the movements and proper form.  In my case, even though it had been many years, I was re-acclimating myself to these movements.  Not entirely unfamiliar with weightlifting technique, I discovered that I more or less remembered proper form.

When I finished building I moved into the “Bulk Phase”.  The goal of the whole program is to build solid muscle, something I have lacked.  I started seeing results, especially after another friend who had injured his shoulder graciously loaned me some considerably heavier dumbbells.  I’d buy my own but a full set runs around $500 and I don’t feel like dropping that kind of cash on something I wasn’t sure would benefit me.

Then came the callback…  Two weeks ago today the guy with the bum shoulder called his weights back.  He was recovered and ready to lift again.  To my surprise (and not entirely unsure of whether he was just trying to be polite) he called that night and asked if we could workout together.  His weights.  His garage.  In my  mind I balked at the idea because I just didn’t love the idea of making a fool of myself.  Don’t forget, I’m probably the most insecure person you’ll ever meet.  Seems to me that most guys my age are not only either current or former champion athletes but also far more adept than me in a gym.  This guy was going to kick my ass and then laugh about it.  Or worse yet, he’d patronize me by telling me “good effort!”

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A more solid pull up bar there never was.

But it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.  For the past two weeks, almost every night around 9:30, he and I have been lifting heavy weights in his garage.  I’m noticing tremendous gains.  Even if I’m the only one who sees it, the muscle is there and getting bigger.  What’s more important is that an increase in raw strength – something I had almost overlooked as a goal – is also improving.  This past Sunday my friend called me as I was on my way home from graduation.  He told me to swing by his house.  He had a present for me.  He had heard me make one of my trademark excuses.  “I could do pull up’s… if I had the proper bar with the right clearance.”  So he made me a bar out of a length of pipe he’d picked up from Lowe’s.  He completed the bar with mounting brackets and told me to stick it onto the cross timber of my kids’ playset in the yard.

And so for the past four days, with no actual excuse in sight, I’ve been doing pull up’s.  I heard a statistic about a year ago that said only 1% of grown men can properly do a single pull up.  That sounds high to me; but then again I’m talking about real, solid, proper-form pull up’s – the kind where you dead-hang from the bar before lifting yourself completely up to chest height.  I certainly had a hard time for the longest time.  Callouses, gripping the bar right, what muscles to engage, etc…  But when you shed those excuses – or rather, when someone takes them away from you – it all comes down to how committed you are.  I WANT to do pull ups.  Another friend told me today that he knocks out 25-50 a day every 2-4 days.  That’s impressive.  No comparisons here.  That would be insane.  But man, I’d love to get to that level.

Toward that end I gripped the bar this past Sunday.  Remember that strength I mentioned?  It must be growing, especially in my forearms and upper back.  I nailed 5 of them.  And as if to knock me back down I tried a sixth and struggled hard.  I’ve been experimenting and discovered that I can knock out five at a time, take about three minutes, and knock out another five.  Can I do more than that?  I’d probably need more of a break between the later sets.  Should I try?  I see no reason not to.  Just a short while ago I hit fifteen in three sets of five over about five minutes.

But without a friend like the guy who threw this bar together for me I wouldn’t be able to try.  And if he’s reading this (which he probably isn’t) I want him to know how much I really appreciate that and the time he’s investing and the camaraderie.  I’m certainly having fun.  I’ve had a few personal goals in the past few years.  One of them was to move into school administration before I turn 40.  Another was to get shredded before 40.  In both cases I’ve been motivated by a desire to prove myself.  Very few people have any measure of real respect for teachers.  It’s sad but true.  Even those with the best of intentions generally let on that, in their minds, teaching is something you do when you can’t do anything else.  I know my fellow teachers know what I’m talking about.  Likewise, very few men have any measure of real respect for a man who is weak.  They may be polite and tell you athletic ability, broad shoulders, and curling prowess are overrated but deep down we all know differently.  It’s man’s nature to respect power and achievement.

I got the admin job.  I’m excited to finally show my family and friends I’m actually a really talented guy who is competent in the formation of youth.  So what if some of them needed to see a title attached to my name in order to believe it.  I’ve always considered myself mentally strong.  Maybe those same people will finally see that strength in me too.  So what if some of them need to see a strong body to believe it.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll get jacked before I’m 40 after all.

One Badass Workout

I promised to keep you, my two loyal readers (Mom got bored), up to date on my progress with my new bulking/shredding program called BodyBeast which is designed to get me huge and ripped.  Previously I would have thought those were two things I wanted to avoid.

Last week I finished week 1.  True, I had spent the two previous weeks messing around with it.  It usually takes me a week or two to get things like a new diet under control (especially when that diet has me jump from about 1700 calories a day to 3400).  I had done some of the workouts using limited equipment I borrowed from a friend and a stability ball I picked up at Walmart.

Last week, though, I was set and committed.  It’s either going to happen or it’s not.  What motivated me was the knowledge that if I had been so committed in the first two weeks I’d be approaching the end of the first phase right now.  OK, just get it done.

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That’s what I’m talking about!  A nice looking set of dubmbbells and plates right there.

On Friday I went to the trainer’s house.  Yes, the point of this workout is that you don’t need a trainer and you do it all at home.  But, I like the guy.  He’s given me great advice and stuck by me while I wallowed in the many failures I’ve endured trying to get into his shape.  Most of the time, he hasn’t even laughed too hard at me.  He and I ran through a 45 minute workout on the pavement of the driveway behind his house.  We each had sufficient weights, each had a stability ball.  He has an awesome pull-up bar rigged up over his 8 foot fence and that came in handy.  At the end of the routine I was pleased to discover that he judged my form to be great and he was impressed at my ability to complete a pretty tough workout.  Did he have a drop of sweat on him?  What do you think?  Nonetheless, I felt confident that I was doing something good.  If this guy, who is a training god, came very near to expressing pride in his wannabe-protege, then I can’t be too off.

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A closer look.  These range from 10’s on the left to 40’s on the right with a set of interchanging weights in the middle and some plates for the bar.

Today, it was back to chest and tri’s.  This time, though, I’ve expanded my arsenal.  From yet another friend I managed to borrow even heavier weights.  For many movements lighter weights aren’t a bad thing.  I’m thinking of shoulders.  At the end of a workout, you try lifting more than 15-pounders in a military press over your head.  It’s hard!  But for chest workouts, I can definitely go higher than the 20’s I had maxed out with.

A note on all these friends who have weights to spare…  It seems a universal truth to me that in America when a young man enters his 20’s and has a trifle bit of spare change he invests it in weights.  He uses the weights religiously for a short while, then trails off.  Evermore the weights remain in his possession until his wife, who long ago gave up caring what he looked like naked, puts them on eBay for extra Christmas money.  Either that or he repurposes them into a coffee table in his pseudo man-cave.

Anyway, I’m definitely feeling this.  It’s going great and I feel great too.  I also was one of those who had weights once.  My excuse was the two spinal fusion surgeries I had so I’m going to stick with that.  It’s been years since I lifted anything and it’s taking some time to get back into it but I feel it coming back to me.  Drop a prayer now and then, if you would, that I don’t injure myself and that I complete these twelve weeks so I can be “beastly”.

The Beast Stirs

I was going to call this “The Beast Awakens” but I feel like that’s been taken already.  Also, once you read all the way through you might scratch your head and say “what beast is he talking about?  What’s he stirring?  Why am I still reading this dude’s blog?”

It’s time once again to return to a topic close to my cardiac muscle.  I’m talking about what I’m currently doing in the gym.  OK, I don’t actually go to a gym.  I work out at home.  I used to belong to a gym that was open 24 hours a day and provided fitness.  I don’t like to mention actual names lest I get sued.  I used to think how cool it would be being able to work out at 3AM when the rest of the world sleeps.  I can’t even imagine the joy in my heart as I’d get out of bed all bleary-eyed, put on my gym shorts backwards and upside down in the dark, and drive off to the gym in a semi-conscious state resembling intoxication only to drop heavy weights on my foot.

Who thought up this concept?

Also, I don’t like gyms.  Lots of fit people there.  I’m nothing if not easily shamed.

A few months ago I took on a personal challenge in the form of a workout called Insanity Max:30.  Well, over the course of two months (and then an additional month where I simply continued the program because I didn’t have anything else to do) I shed some serious bodyfat.  I didn’t really add any muscle which was one of my hopes but I was pleased with the results.  I’ve learned to try focusing on whether I feel good about my progress.  If I focused on externals, I would be miserable.  I’m the one who never sees progress in myself and always believes that the super-fit people of the world are only condescending to me when they offer their compliments.  Kind of like: “Good boy!  You’re not nearly as fat as you used to be!  So proud.”  Yes, I’m sensitive to that kind of thing.  I’m also not likely to believe I can actually achieve the real goals I have in mind so I want to underestimate my results.

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I’m using dumbbells.  These things just look strange.

All that aside, I have moved on to the newest program from the same people.  This one is called BodyBeast.  The stated goal is to help you get huge.  I’m torn on this.  I’ve always wanted to be bigger and yet smaller at the same time.  Maybe I’m schizophrenic.  What I mean is I’d love more solid muscle and less non-solid composition.  This workout is performed using weights (dumbbells) and is done at home.  I borrowed dumbbells from a friend who wasn’t using his anymore.  By the way, it seems to be true that most men at some point in their 20’s will invest in a set of weights.  It’s almost part of the man code.  Whether you ever use them or not, you must buy them and make sure they’re prominently displayed in your garage.  “Look at me!  I do muscle stuff.”  I myself once had an entire set complete with bench and all.  I even used them at one point.  The thing is, I never knew if I was lifting effectively or even the right way.  Could explain why I failed to reach the goals I had in the past.

Oh… this program also calls for a bench.  They’re kind of pricey so I opted for something called an anti-burst stability ball.  Buying this made me laugh.

I have not seen results yet but it’s only been a week.  Also, you might remember that I said I don’t ever see results and I tend not to believe those who tell me that they see results.  But I will tell you two things about this program I’ve noticed already.

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I wish I looked as good as this dude from Cocoon.  I’d love to know what program he’s using.  I’m not even close.

First, the diet is intense.  Far from feeling hungry and eating things I dislike in abundance I have to take in about 3400 calories a day.  The problem is that they come from “clean” sources.  I could easily do that many calories by sucking down fast food and I’d probably enjoy myself too.  This program, however, insists I get 3400 calories from an enormous amount of food that seems to lack calories to begin with.  I’m struggling to get the calories but eating way more than I ever used to.  This may be a problem.  Also, I have an innate fear that eating this much will undo whatever results I saw from the previous routine.

Second, the workouts are insane.  Six nights a week I stream videos from my laptop featuring an Israeli trainer named Sagi (sah-GEE) who, though pleasant and inspiring, also uses a healthy dose of insult to motivate.  “You want to get big?” he says while pointing at the screen with an arm that can barely be raised above his waist for sheer size, “then do this movement right or I will come into your home and crush you.”  Perhaps I exaggerate a bit but you get the point.  Again, I have the constant notion that I’m not lifting properly or lifting heavy enough weights and then my insecurity takes over and I wonder if the next 12 weeks will produce any results at all.  At best I might look like a somewhat less-soft version of myself.  At worst, I’ll get huge in completely the wrong way.  But, I’ve made a commitment.  No matter what else, I take my commitments seriously.  Even if I know it’s not getting me anywhere, I stick with it because that’s who I am.

So, in twelve weeks I’ll come back at you and let you know how this has gone.  You can be assured that I will have completed it.  I may have also gone out of my mind and chucked a dumbbell at Sagi but I will finish what I start.

Meanwhile if any of you lovely readers have suggestions or similar stories about your own fitness routines I’d love to hear them.  Share away.

I’m Fixed (I Think)

I’ve been a way for a while.  Actually, I’ve been busy blogging the whole time but for a different blog.  You see, friends, I am in the midst of an 11,000 mile road trip with the family.  Yes, you read that right.  It’s a mix of business and pleasure.  The business part is coming from the fact that my wife and I serve on a board that has put us to work traveling the continent this summer.  Yours truly is the documentarian.  The pleasure part comes from the fact that this is just fun for us.

While traveling and writing I had an opportunity to spend an evening with Kate.  Kate is an old friend who happens to be Annie’s daughter.  You all know Annie.  She’s my biggest fan and I love sharing my posts if for no other reason than that I know she’ll read it and comment.

Today she emailed me with a question.  You may recall that about a five weeks ago, before this trip, I began a diet called 21 Day Fix from the folks at BeachBody.com.  In conjunction with this diet I entered into a contest called DietBet.  Just so you know, DietBet uses an app where you’re assigned a goal weight and then asked to weigh in again within 3 weeks.  If your second weigh-in matches the goal weight then you win a share of the money what people paid in to be in the contest.

In my case I first weighed in at 196.9  Before you say anything remember I have a narrow frame.  My assigned target was 4% of my total weight or a bit more than 8 lbs.  I followed the recommended diet which was heavy on vegetables.  I loathe vegetables but for the first time in my life I decided to just do it.  Day after day I munched on carrots and salads, stuffed the blender with kale and spinach, and actually ate broccoli.  It wasn’t easy.  I also switched to black coffee and gave up drinking soda altogether.  Unsweetened tea became my friend.  Seemed like a lot to go through for 8 lbs.  But I did it.

On the exercise front I dropped running.  Maybe one day I’ll take it up again.  I just felt like it was never really for me.  A friend had gotten me into it and he was very helpful both as a guide and a model.  But I know in my heart I was never going to matriculate into the kind of elite athlete he is.  There will be no mud runs in my future any time soon.  I’m still hopeful to get somewhat leaner and a bit more in shape over time but switching my diet I at least know that I’m doing something right and if nothing else the black coffee can serve as a penance of sorts.  I did do 21 days of their workouts which were brutal.  I haven’t seen any results but I never do.  If anyone else has seen them, they’re not saying.

So how’d I do?

Let’s just say that starting a diet and then going on a road trip is not such a good idea.  When you’re driving a car ten hours out of a day it can be difficult to eat right.  Difficult, but not impossible.  We stopped at supermarkets in the morning and grabbed fruits and vegetables that wouldn’t spoil quickly and that took care of a lot.  Just eating the damn veggies every day appears to be helpful even if you’re going off-script with the rest of it.

When we got close to day 21 we were in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We stopped at a Walmart and bought a scale.  When the day came I took the scale out.  I was not too hopeful.  I took off my shoes and stepped up.

To my surprise I was half a pound under my target!

I did it.  I got my money.  I’m happy.

Will there be any before/after photos?  Well I took them but I’m no fool.  Somehow I have this mental block about posting shirtless pictures of myself online for the world to see.  Nothing on the internet ever goes away.

But there you have it.  Would I recommend this total plan to others?  Absolutely.  In fact, I started it up again after a few days off where I enjoyed some good foods.  But guess what?  I still ate the vegetables, still poured nothing into my coffee, still stuck with the tea.  I guess it’s just a way of life and I’m hoping to stick with it further.  My new goal is to get to 175.  I’ll come back at you if I get there.

The “Fix” Is Working

I shared with you a week ago that I was on BeachBody’s 21 Day Fix Extreme.  Tonight I rounded out day 8. No, Annie, there won’t be any before and after picture, at least not until it’s all done and I’m drunk. Suffice it to say that things are going better than expected. 

Even “trainer” noticed a difference. At work on Friday he casually mentioned that I was looking very fit. “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up!” He has no idea how valuable that comment to me was. For a guy as fit as him (read: “shredded”) to tell pathetic old me who is far from fit and in fact may be classified as deformed that I’m looking better is huge. And I was fully clothed too so that speaks volumes. Of course he made this comment while doing 25 squat lunge-burpees and then took off to run 4 miles during the change between classes, but… He still said it and he can’t take it back. 

This will be me at 40. *Not ALL parts depicted accurately.

Tonight it was back to plyo workout. I felt great when I finished. Not only did I complete every damn set but it didn’t feel like I would die. And yes, I’m starting to notice little things here and there – things like abdominal muscles (not phenomenal but there) and the ribs that frame out ones chest when he’s actually jacked. I know this doesn’t mean much to most people or even to “trainer” who’s probably sick of seeing himself in a mirror but to me it’s big. As a younger man I never felt that I could just rip my shirt off whenever I felt the urge. Still don’t. Instead I had to win friends and indluence people by sharpening my wit. I was always the smart, funny friend whom everyone loved to have at a party but not necessarily on their team. So I found ways to insult them with clever words and then to insult myself and make a joke out of my shape. It’s worked for me for years and I’ve gotten quite good at it. Just the other day a friend shared a clip with me of a baseball catcher making an incredible catch. Meant nothing to me since I never played baseball (not even a game of catch in the yard with my brothers) but I could appreciate the intensity of it and my friend’s sense of awe. Fighting the urge to say “Wow, such coordination. Someone can use his hands,” I said instead simply “Wow.” But I didn’t say it with an exclamation point. 

My ultimate hope is to be able to say in a year and a half when I turn 40 that I’m in the best shape of my life and to have the body to back that up. And if not I can always cut everyone around me down to size with a quick jab of my vocabulary. There’s a part of me that would love the “revenge” aspect of that as I watch my friends who once had athleticism struggle to avoid obesity. Of course “trainer” will somehow find a way to shed even more body fat by then. But on some plane where the rest of us mortals dwell most might think I’ve done OK for myself. 

Autumn ( the woman from the workout videos) keeps saying “Remember why you’re doing this!”  Then she yells at Cat. I keep responding “so my wife will find me irresistible” and realizing that’s not the right answer.  

I’m doing this for me. 

The Fix Is In

Today I embarked on a new chapter in my fitness quest.

Today I began a program called 21 Day Fix.  Actually the one I began is called 21 Day Fix EXTREME!  Ooh.

Let me tell you about it.

There are two parts to this baby.  The first is the diet.  I’ve dabbled with changing my diet before.  I’ve done Atkins and such in the past.  In fact I have heard it said that fixing your diet – that is, sticking to a healthy diet – is 80% of getting jacked.  I heard that from my “trainer” who’s name now appears in quotes as he insists he’s not actually a trainer and may in fact be lying to me in an effort to keep me from making progress and thus seeing results to rival his.  All of that is a lie, of course.  I said it to get a rise out of him, you know, for laughs.

mustang parc gym

Yep, it’s another “fitness” blog.

I’ve heard the old “eat smaller meals more frequently” maxim.  What I ate today, though, totally takes the cake for eating like a king.  At the end of the day I had yet to consume a large amount of my daily intake and was already full.  This is all based on one’s height, weight, activity level, goals, etc.  At one point I had to take a bunch of body measurements for the tracking app I’m using.  I had a bit of fun discovering that my calves are two inches bigger than my arms.  My wife’s response to that was “Well, you’ve got big calves,” not “Don’t worry, your arms are big enough for me and that’s all that counts and I love you more than any man who’s ever lived and take me now.”

Now for the exercise part of the equation…

A curious note in the app said simply “Plyo-max Extreme”.  This appears to be a reference to plyometrics, a pseudoscience, the premise of which is that if you jump around a lot you’ll be “fit”.  “Can’t be too hard,” I thought.  I’ve been running up to five miles a days, doing crazy tabata workouts.  I’ll probably not even break a sweat.”

The woman came on the screen.  Her name is Autumn.  I feel it’s important you know that.  I think when parents give their kids out-there names it messes with their psyche and turns them crazy.  Autumn lived up to my expectations.  The thing is she didn’t hit me full-on crazy like I was expecting.  She eased into it.

The setting was a large gym with a stairwell on the side presumably leading nowhere.  That’s not a metaphor at all.  In the background were prominently displayed packages of “Shakeology”, the powdered supplement that is the core of the whole program.  That’s not a pyramid scheme at all.  Speaking of pyramids, immediately behind Autumn were nine people.  Looking at their physiques, lithe movement patterns, and attire I surmised that they were the children of Solid Gold dancers.  And then there was Cat.  Cat didn’t look like she belonged.  Cat looked as normal as you or I.  Cat appeared to be right as rain.  Cat didn’t seem to give a shit that she was there.  Why, Cat, why?  What is your deal?

I didn’t have time to ponder that.  Autumn and the Pod People all began “warming up” in sync with each other.  Not Cat.  She clapped her hands once, looked at the camera and mouthed “Bitches.  I piss on all of you.”  Autumn intoned her instructions like the pope leading the Salve Regina at the end of a Vatican mass.

“We’re Getting Pum-umped!”

On the wall behind her was a chalkboard that read “You can do anything!”  Lies.  Autumn, as if she was reading my mind cut in “You can do anything!  Now let’s do this!”  And we were off.  First up was something called plyo-jumps followed by something called plyo-sumo-jump lunges.  Moments later I was about to collapse.  But I could do it.  I think.  And then Autumn said something that made me feel both sad, and confused at the same time.  “Guys,” she barked at the people behind her, “if you don’t have the flexibility to do this right, just follow Cat’s lead.”

Ahhhh!  That’s what Cat’s there for.  And that explains why she doesn’t really seem to care what’s going on.  While everyone else was literally jumping into the air, both feet together, and slapping their knees, Miss Cat was simply raising her heels an inch or two off the ground, smiling, and returning to start.  She was the comic relief in Autumn’s mind, brought in to contrast fit from undesirable.  Basically, she’s the Quazimodo of this film.

Set by set, movement by movement, Autumn shamed me (and her minions on set) into greater fits of sweat and pain.  Not Cat.  We did reverse lunges.  Cat took a step and winked at the camera.  We did burpees with a push up.  Cat got on all fours, raised her right arm, and meowed.  Autumn would chime in with some ridiculousness toward one of the dancers “Tony! If you can’t do the movements right, just do what Cat’s doing,” or “Philippine! If you don’t have the balls to get those quads up in the air while engaging your core, just do what Cat’s doing.”  Meanwhile by the final set Cat was in a leather recliner eating Yodels and watching TV.  I think she was watching a Richard Simmons workout VHS.

Cat looked happy.  Cat is very smart.  If you want to be jacked do what Autumn tells you to do and like it.  If you want anything of value, just do what Cat’s doing.

More to come.