March 18, 2014
I took an 8-week fitness challenge. I didn't place and I gained weight, yet I consider it a great success. Here's what happened.
Last year, I made a conscious effort to maintain a more balanced life. I work less (smarter, not harder), drink lots of water, meditate nearly every day, and make sure to be present for my family. I also exercise daily, but overall, exercise has waned in recent years. The 4 to 5 day a week workout machine I used to be in my 20's and early 30's had slowly disappeared. Now I was down to doing almost nothing. Kids and age will do that to you.
I decided I had to exercise every day, even in the littlest way. Every day I do push-ups, some abdominal work, and pull-ups. This is easy to do because I have an exercise area I put together in our basement, I keep exercise equipment at the office, and I don't spend more than 15-20 minutes a day, all in. I track all this very consistently with the help of Lift app, but that's the blog post for another day. My small daily exercise routine gets me off my arse, but doesn't produce any significant results. I knew I was looking a little more, um…"tubular" than I'm used to, so something more had to be done.
My wife belongs to Symmetry, a training and fitness club, and they regularly host "8-week fitness challenges." She has finished two of these, and did really well both times. She encouraged me to try it out. I was a little wary because:
Despite those reservations, I thought "what the hell, it's only 8 weeks" and signed up.
There was a kick-off class where they talked about food (specifically the Zone Diet), hydration, and exercise. We had an initial weigh-in, and took a body fat measurement. These were my numbers:
167.2 lbs, 35 3/4 waist, 7 1/8 wrist, 24.7 BMI, 13.2% body fat
We were then asked to write down our goals. I had two: gain core strength and definition. After the orientation, the rest was up to us.
I made it to 24 workouts over the 8 weeks, and there were people who made it to a lot more classes than I did. I took a mix of classes: conditioning, circuit, HIIT (high intensity interval training), a cycling class, and strength classes. Even though the exercise part was important, I feel it was the diet changes that really helped make the difference.
I wrote down literally everything I consumed over the 8 week period. To make weighing out food easier, I bought the EatSmart Precision Pro kitchen scale from Amazon. I didn't have to do that, but I wanted some accountability, and wanted to look for patterns. The following are the dietary changes I made and things I learned that are still sticking with me, even though the challenge is over.
I eat a lot of Zone Perfect bars. They satiate my need for chocolate while providing carbs.
I make sure to eat a very balanced breakfast. Every day for over two months I've basically eaten the same thing for breakfast (I'm a real creature of habit):
I now eat a ton of 0% fat Greek yogurt every day. My favorite snack is Fage, berries and Kashi Crumble.
I found that I can eat a huge bowl of spinach or romaine lettuce with some mandarin orange slices on it. That's it. It's delicious.
I consume a lot less salt. My final wrist measurement (which apparently measures water-retention which is tied to sodium intake) was evidence of this.
One of my favorite lunches is from Subway. My go-to Subway sub: 12" Turkey, double meat. No cheese, add all veggies, and no sauces. This is good for lunch for two days. When it comes time to eat, I put mustard (and sometimes a little guacamole) on one half of it.
Turkey bacon isn't horrible.
Proper hydration is a big deal. I've been doing this since November of last year, so this wasn't a change I needed to make. I drink about 88–96 oz. of water every day which has made a big difference for me in many ways, but that's a subject for a different post.
You don't have to eat like a bird. Go ahead, have a slice of pizza. But, if you do eat pizza be smart about it: portion control! I don't eat a whole pizza anymore. Eat fewer pieces but enjoy those pieces more.
Final weigh-in: 168.6, lbs, 33 waist, 6 3/8 wrist, 24.9 BMI, 13.2% body fat.
Wait, WHAT? I gained weight and my BMI went up, and I had no change in body fat? So did I win the challenge? Not by the numbers–I wasn't even in the top 30 finishers. I gained weight - but it was muscle. This is where you have to understand you can't just look at your weight number. By itself, it doesn't tell the whole story. More importantly, damn the numbers: How do you feel? How do you look? I lost nearly 3 inches on my waist. I literally have to poke a new hole in my belts because my pants are falling off.
The most important thing was: my goals were met. Before the challenge I couldn't hold a plank for 30 seconds. By the end, I could hold a plank for over 2 minutes, and side planks for over a minute. I definitely got more definition. In addition to the physical benefits, I know how to think about eating now, so I can even make the best of a situation where the food available to me isn't ideal.
I don't think my abs have ever been this defined, and that is due in large part to the diet part of it. I worked out a lot in my 20's but I never paid attention to diet back then. I'd work out then go back to my apartment and eat a whole pizza without blinking–or thinking.
Hey, not bad results for a 41-year old who sits in front of a computer all day. I know I can do better, though, which is why I decided to remain a member of the club once the challenge ended. What…am I just going to stop now? My abdominal strength has come a long way, but has a ways to go, and my legs are a weak spot, too. Nicole, Jeff or Stacey can reduce my legs to rubber in a matter of a few minutes with a squat routine, so there's still plenty work to be done.
Feeling totally tubular yourself? Try taking a class - it just might be the inspiration you need. It worked for me, and the class format pushes me further than I would push myself just working out by myself in a home gym. If you're in the Grand Rapids area, maybe I'll see you at Symmetry.