My Workout 5/7/19

Being out of shape can mean so many different things. This weekend I did a 20 mile bike “race”. It was fairly easy. I didn’t go fast, but I was able to keep a reasonable pace despite only training for it in the week leading up to it. I was “out of shape” for that race. One thing that I have noticed is that my cardio ability takes a big hit once I stop training. As far as strength goes (NOT work capacity), it can stay, in my experience, for weeks to almost a month with little or no training. Not so with cardio. The moment I stop training, my ability begins to decline quickly.

Anyway, I say that to say that my goals have changed a little bit. As far as the gym goes, I am mostly focusing on my upper body work capacity. This means a good deal of volume. For my lower body, I plan on doing steady state cardio interspersed with some HIIT. At the moment, I am not interested in growing my legs at all, so I feel comfortable backing off training them with weights for a little bit. For me, during the summer and fall, participating in 5k’s, going on long walks and hikes, and bike races are much more exciting!

So for my workout today I am getting my body revved up for some increased volume. I am starting out with 3 sets of each exercise, and hopefully over the next month or two will bump that up to about six sets. I use the Strong App to track my workouts. It is great because I can track everything as I go, and there is an awesome rest timer so I can be pretty exact on seeing how I am (or am not) improving that week/session. Below is a screen shot of my workout minus the 3 sets of machine back extensions with 250 lbs.

I have been inconsistent and training with a much lower volume lately. So since my goal is increasing my work capacity, I am mostly getting a feel for the set and rep schemes that will be the best for building off of. I will probably keep my bench weight the same and go for 3×8 and then up my rep numbers for the lat pull-down. I’ll also probably start the next sets of rows with 115 lbs.

Until next time…

My One-Month Experience with Meditation

I have “known about” meditation for a number of years. My introduction probably started with reading books by Thich Nhat Hanh when I was in college 10 years ago. I never had a serious meditation practice though. I would attend a yoga class here or there and try following my breathing here and there, but never consistently. “Consistency is key” really rings true in my experience as within just one month of a 5-20 minute daily meditation practice, I have noticed some real benefits.

I Can Re-Center More Easily

The biggest and most impressive benefit I have noticed is “coming back to myself” quicker when confronted with a difficult situation, thought, or feeling. It is almost as if I can feel myself being pulled out of relative mindfulness, and it is easier to get back into it. I work as a middle school teacher so there are literally hundreds of moments of distraction in any given day. I am noticing that although I may still feel nervous, anxious, angry, etc., it is easier for me to notice and (depending on the weight of the situation) pull myself out of it by using a meditation anchor (breath, quotes/mantras, feeling the inner body).

I Look Forward to My Meditation Practice

This was quite unexpected at first but makes complete sense. I guess on a deeper level I can see the benefits in my life and don’t want to miss an opportunity to deepen my practice. I often find myself getting excited thinking about my 5-20 minutes of meditation like you would get excited about a concert or a nice dinner.

Meditation has Deepened other Areas of my Life

I began to notice rather quickly that I had more energy and willpower in other areas of my life (such as working out consistently and staying on top of my nutrition). Perhaps it is a positive feedback loop, but I began to make beneficial choices with relative ease (of course knowing what changes to make is a key part of that).

How I have been Meditating

My main practice is centered around guided meditations. I find body scans and following breathing to be the most beneficial. I have been using a number of apps this month, but my favorite has become the “Calm” app. Although the meditations often discuss ideas and content at the end, they always begin with some form of centering meditation. As I said earlier, most are 5-20 minutes long and I do them each night before bed (which doubles as a great way to wind down after the day).

Well, that has been my experience thus far with meditating consistently for one month. I look forward to talking more about my experience after 3, 6, and 12 months as well! Until next time…

My Workout Today 4/23/19

I try to change up my workouts intermittently. I have been focusing less on strength and more on my conditioning. This means higher rep circuit-like training. I have seen some pretty good success with it! My resting heart rate has dropped about 8 bpm (and my hrv has improved similarly) since starting this training block about a month ago. I also have been trying to find ways to incorporate a variety of fitness parameters into my workouts.

For the next month, I will be breaking my workouts into a strength component (20 mins), followed by an SARQ component (5-10 min), and then an endurance component (10 min). I’ll break down the specifics of each.

  • The strength component for me can include anything weight-bearing. I will likely keep my reps between 6 and 20 for any exercises I do. Depending on the day and how I am feeling, I might do heavier compound movements (squat, deadlift, bench), or I may do lighter, high-rep isolation work (leg press, leg extensions, lat pulldown, etc.)
  • The SARQ component is a new addition to my training program. I have done SARQ exercise with good results every time I decide to do it, but I have been very inconsistent. SARQ stands for Speed, Agility, Reactivity, and Quickness. For me this looks like agility ladder or cone drills, boxing on a heavy bag, using a reaction ball, or even playing some basketball. These types of movements encourage your body to maintain and build your ability to move multi-laterally quickly. And I think they are the most fun!
  • The endurance component consists of any cardio movement (treadmill, elliptical, etc.) done at my Maffetone (180 – age) HR for at least ten minutes. This type of training will ensure that you keep your endurance up.

So, today I did a workout consisting of these movements. I didn’t aim for any specific reps, just gently challenged myself.

  • Squats. I used 225 lbs and did 6 reps, 5 reps, and then 3 reps. It has been a while since I have squatted so I expected it to be a little more challenging.
  • Bench. I used 185 lbs for a set of 8, and then a pause-rep set of 4.
  • Heavy Bag. Didn’t take any specific measurements, but I would estimate I did about 3 rounds for a total time of around 5 minutes.
  • Incline Walking. After all of that intense work, you can guess that my heart rate was high. So today, walking at a 3.0 incline at a speed of about 2.0-3.0 mph kept me slightly below my target heart rate. I walked for 10 minutes.

Well, that was my workout today. Hopefully you found something interesting that you might be able to use! Until next time…

My Workout 3/24/19

Sundays are usually a pretty chill day in my house. Laundry, naps, church, and generally relaxing things. My wife recently joined Orange Theory Fitness so she had a class at 7am. Pretty early for a Sunday 😉

Since she was going to be at the gym I figured I would move my workout (normally to be done on Monday or Tuesday) to today. I actually like exercising earlier in the day because it helps set the tone for making sure my nutrition and other things are on point to support training.

I am in the second week of a high end strength block, but have been missing the increased energy that comes from doing higher rep work, so I decided to do the main heavy lifts followed by some accessory work. My workout consisted of…

  • 2 sets of 3 reps @ 140 lbs of Overhead Press. I intended to do a 3×3 this session, but felt my form breaking a little so I backed off.
  • 2 sets of 3 reps @ 230 lbs of Barbell Row. I’m trying to keep my row and bench at the same weight. I definitely could have done 3×3, but my bench felt heavy last session so I held back again.
  • Dumbbell Overhead Press. I did 3 sets of 8 reps with 40 lb dumbbells. I could have gone harder, but I knew my main heavy lifts already provided that overloading stimulus so I didn’t want to push any farther.
  • Seated Row. Seated row is one of my favorite exercises and I can really feel it in my lats. 3 sets of 8 with 130 lbs.
  • Converging Shoulder Press with 3 sets of 15 with 60 lbs. This was a “burnout” exercise, and by the last few reps of the last set I felt a nice burn in my traps.
  • Bicep Curls with 3 sets of 15 with 40 lbs. Just like the converging overhead press, I felt a nice burn at the end.

I usually don’t do quite this much volume when I am in a strength block, but I missed the volume so I just went for it. I guess my next workout will show if that will hinder my progress.

Well, that was my workout today! Until next time…

Three Reasons Fitness is Sometimes Boring (and why it should be that way)

I think the younger we are, the more we are in search of the novel and the interesting. It is almost as if time teaches us that most of the best things in life are not-at-all extraordinary. A quote by Thich Nhat Hanh comes to mind, “There is no enlightenment outside of daily life”. It seems like we all begin our fitness journey looking for the instagrammable montage of PR after PR, cool looking fitness clothes, and in search of the elusive beach body. All of those things are awesome to be sure, but as we mature in our fitness, we begin to realize that fitness is kind of boring. Most of our work does not bear immediate results, and in many cases we may need to wait weeks and months to see results.

1) Fitness Takes Time

I have been working out for the better part of six years. I always find strength training to be fun and challenging, but not so much cardio. Now that I am older, I realize why my personal training certification course material saw cardio fitness as foundational. Having a high aerobic capacity increases our quality of living significantly.

Having to humbly approach a new discipline reminds me that fitness takes time. No matter where you are starting, progress is usually slow. But after training in this way for a few weeks, and seeing improvement, it gets easier to settle into the patience needed to see results.

Things that take time are not exciting. They can be rewarding, pay off hugely, and also be enjoyable…but not necessarily exciting. Once we understand this, we can appreciate the journey as opposed to the climax.

2) Fitness Requires Planning

Planning is not sexy. We all want to believe that if we just “go by feel” we can get results. While this is sometimes true, more often than not, it is a deeply flawed idea. In order to become fitter, we must organize our daily lives so that we have the time and energy to devote to it. Many of our beloved fitness gurus don’t have full time jobs. And if they do, fitness is their full time job. For the rest of us, we have to find ways to make fitness “fit” (hehe) into our schedules.

Let’s face it…planning (at first) is also boring. Once we bite the bullet and make planning a habit, we can then begin to enjoy the process. When I first started planning my meals and my workouts meticulously and how and when I would go to the gym (often early in the morning before work), it seemed like a bit of a chore. But once I saw that planning made my daily choices so much easier, I began to love it!

3) Fitness Demands that you Submit

In one of my favorite books, “Mastery” by George Leonard, he talks about the idea of “surrendering to the demands of your discipline”. This means that whatever we do (in this case fitness) requires that we follow the rules that lead to desired results (mastery). Broadly speaking, for fitness this means intelligent, evidence-based, carefully planned, and consistent action over an extended period of time.

We all have a tendency (probably some more than others as my wife routinely reminds me) to want to break the rules. We may think doing sprints every day will make us super fast, or going to failure every workout will give us superior gains, but the evidence does not point to that. We have to put aside our ego and submit to the time-tested methods of achieving our fitness goals.

So there are a few ways that fitness may be boring, but in a good way. Hopefully you found an idea that will help you in reaching your goals! Until next time…

Inspect What you Expect

In fitness, relationships, finance and life, this old management theory seems to ring eternally true. Inspecting what you expect means to constantly monitor anything that you care about or prioritize. There is an idea, which I first learned from reading the works of Bill Harris of Centerpointe Research Institute, that all things tend to break down and become disordered unless energy is added in some way. This is called the Law of Increasing Entropy. When I think about my wallet, my waistline, and the health of my relationships, I know this Law to be true. A little too much rest, a little indifference and things start to get out of hand. Of course, life will always have challenges that are not of our making, but much of our unhappiness with our results can come from failure to recognize and respond to this Law.

Inspect your Plate and your Weight

I recently got back in the habit of weighing myself daily. What a shock! Despite feeling pretty good, I am about 20 pounds over where I want to be. By being intentional about what I am eating and monitoring my workout plan, I was able to lose about a pound in one week with very little effort…just a little more awareness (I am a 5’11” muscular guy so ymmv). It truly is amazing how when we take our eyes off of what is important, things can change for the worse very quickly.

Early on in my fitness journey I also got in the habit of tracking my food. Using a tool such as MyFitnessPal makes this almost painless. Without fail, every time I “take a break” from tracking, I lose/gain unwanted weight, or my workouts and energy levels suffer. Just like clockwork, when I am more regular in tracking my calories, I can pinpoint exactly where the extra pounds (or lack of energy) are coming from.

Keep an Eye on Expenses

Parkinson’s Law says that expenses will rise to meet income. Very true! Think about it, when most of us are 25, we have all the major things in life (a place to live and a car), but most people, as they earn more money, continue to get bigger and better versions of those things. Think about it, if you make $50,000 you can afford to have a car. You will likely (if you are sane and logical) spend maybe $5-10k on a car. But years later as you grow in your career making maybe $100,000 you may be tempted to proportionally increase the price of your car. Bad idea! If you can muster the discipline to live well below your means, you will be able to grow your wealth at an astounding rate.

When we take or eyes off of our expenses we fall prey to one “super-size-me” to the next. Bigger house, bigger car, bigger yard, vacation homes, luxury spa memberships. If we can keep an eye on our spending, we can take advantage of Parkinson’s Law and get closer and closer to financial independence.

Obviously this idea of monitoring to make progress applies to countless other areas of life. Hopefully you gained some insight to make a positive change in your life! Until next time…

Listening to the Seasons

I started seriously working out in the spring of 2012. I remember the exact event that motivated me. I went to the gym with a colleague and we went to the bench press. I did my customary 5-8 reps of 135 lbs and when it was his turn, I watched with amazement as he easily repped 225 lbs. I was amazed. I made a decision that one day I would be able to do the same.

I started my fitness journey doing Stronglifts 5×5 (an excellent start). Within just a couple months, all my lifts had gone up significantly. Then something happened. Progress slowed. Alot. I tried to push past it, but workout after workout I grew more tired and burnt out.

Any fitness professional worth their salt would know the obvious answer is periodization. Basically meaning altering the volume and intensity of your workouts over time to allow for full recovery.

I say all that to discuss an important idea when it comes to fitness and to life. The seasons.

There is a Time for Everything

Ancient wisdom going back to King Solomon talks about the importance of seasons (“There is a time for everything…”). It took me a while to see the true wisdom in understanding and going with the seasons.

When I began to periodize my training, I started to make progress again. Albeit more slowly, but progress nonetheless.

I then began to notice the same patterns in other areas of my life. At times, things would thrive, and then at other times, despite my most valiant efforts, things would change or “get worse”.

In my mid-twenties, I happened upon a book by Jim Rohn entitled “The Seasons of Life”. Reading this book gave me a philosophy that I refer to often (especially in difficult times). I want to share a few of these experiences so that hopefully you can notice and go with the seasons of your life.

Seasons of Fitness

Our bodies cannot work at 100% all of the time. There is basic information we have to know about how our bodies work in order for us to get the most out of them. For beginners, you should follow a linear program. Meaning you should add more weight to the bar, or walk/run longer, until you stop making progress. When you become an intermediate athlete (which will take 3-6 months), then you begin to periodize.

Now with this bit of wisdom, I know that I can’t always lift heavy. I need light days and deload days. I also need to work on other aspects of my fitness to improve. I highly recommend working with a good fitness professional if you are having any trouble at all reaching your goals.

Financial Seasons

Money is an interesting thing. Sometimes you feel like you have more than enough, and then other times, scarcity overtakes you. I am reminded of a story in the bible where David is asked to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream where he sees seven skinny cows and then seven lean cows, and the lean cows eat up the fat cows. David interpreted this dream to mean that there would be seven years of plenty, and then seven years of famine. David’s solution was to save 1/5 or 20% of all the grain during the good years. As a result, Egypt had food all throughout the lean years.

I believe this will be true of pretty much everyone’s financial situation. Sometimes money will come in from unexpected sources, and other times unexpected bills will pile up. So what do we do? We learn to live frugally and save for those times when opportunity and money is hard to come by. Coincidentally, a 20% savings rate would be a great place to start (hopefully ramping up to 50% or more over time).

Just a few weeks ago I got an unwelcome bill. To the tune of $4,000! Of course I was bothered, but my wife and I have carefully planned and saved to the point where a bill of this size is actually no big deal. The comfort of knowing you can handle a financial setback is much better than the comfort of riding in a new car…to me at least…

Professional Seasons

Seasons become very apparent in our work. Sometimes things come to us and thrive. The promotion comes, we learn a new skill or a new way to earn money, and everything is great! And then there are other times where we are looked over for a promotion, a colleague says a harsh word to us, or our work begins to overwhelm us and throw us out of balance.

Here too, we are admonished to submit to the seasons. We should always be learning and growing, but we should be patient (and expect) that we will meet the inevitable plateau and/or backslide. During these times we have to remember that our next season of opportunity is coming. What are we doing to prepare for it? Are we reading? Are we speaking with wise older people? Are we trying new things?

In conclusion, just as the seasons of weather dictate when we will sow and when we will reap a crop, the seasons of our lives dictate when we will sow and reap in our relationships, finance, health/fitness, and work. Let’s be sensitive and listen to the wisdom of the seasons.

Until next time…