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…

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…

Three Easy Ways to Stay Hydrated

Hydration is a very important part of a nutrition plan. While not as important as eating sufficient (not excessive) calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients, after those basics are covered I have found it to be the next most important item.

In my experience, hydration has a significant bearing on how we feel and our energy levels. Obviously our bodies are intelligent and will send a thirst signal when we are low on fluids, but our performance (exercise performance AND/OR daily life performance) will suffer long before then. Read this to see all of the science behind this phenomenon.

For everyday people, the biggest challenge is knowing how much water we drink without going to obsessive means. I have found, and most of the fitness community agrees, that we should aim for about 1mL of water for every calorie consumed. So, a 2000 calorie diet = 2 liters of water. 3500 calorie diet = 3.5 liters of water.

Now…you could be one of those interesting people at the gym carrying a gallon of water, but for most people, these tips should help you ensure you are getting the benefits of proper hydration with minimal inconvenience.

1) Know how Much Water the Cups and Bottles you drink out of Hold.

I have a BIG 1500mL bottle that I fill and drink every day at work. The bottle has clearly labeled mL lines. This way, I know that at the end of the day, if the bottle is empty, I have drunk 1.5L of my estimated 3L each day.

Later on, when I get home, I know how much water each of my cups holds. Most household cups will range from 250-750 mL.

2) Whenever you Eat, Drink Water!

The other part of staying hydrated easily will come from drinking water every time you eat. Not only will this help with your hydration, but it will temper your desire to drink (probably) unnecessary calories. When you drink water with each meal, you get the satisfaction of hydration coupled with better digestions. High water content meals and foods are the easiest on our digestive systems and allow us to digest quickly and efficiently.

3) Aim for Clear Urine.

A good rule of thumb to test your hydration level will be to look and see if your urine stream (if you’re a man) is clear. If you are a woman I would check for a light yellow to clear toilet bowl after urinating. If you are drinking 1mL per calorie, you should be A-ok. Whenever I use the restroom and my urine stream is not clear I immediately grab my water bottle (which…surprise surprise will be more full than usual) and drink 300-500 mL.

Following these three easy tips to stay hydrated should have you feeling the benefits of a properly hydrated body in no time. Until next time…

Three Ways Fitness can Make you a Better Person

Bold claim…I know. Please don’t rack your brain trying to think of counter-examples. Yes, this article will contain some generalizations, but I believe there will also be some universal truths contained in it as well.

Fitness Teaches you Discipline

The main benefit of getting on and sticking to a sustainable fitness plan is that it will teach you discipline. Not the “hard, grit your teeth” kind of discipline, but the gentle discipline that is a reminder that when you do something good for you, you are rewarded. I have never gone to the gym and done an intelligent workout and left feeling worse. Going to work out improves my mood, energy, libido, and creativity every time with no exception (this is a guarantee if you exercise intelligently…more on that in posts to come). As Jim Rohn says, “Discipline weighs ounces“, meaning in this case, the small amount of energy to overcome inertia is a small price to pay for reaping the subsequent benefits.

Muscle and Strength will Give you Confidence

Especially for men, but women too, having muscle and strength will change the way you view yourself and how others view you. I used to weigh 150 lbs at 5’11”. When I began gaining muscle and getting fit, people treated me differently. Whether we know it or not, we respect people with muscle because we know they had to work for it. They didn’t sit on their couch and gain it from thin air. It took calculated disciplined effort to get it. It may sound silly but once you start gaining muscle and strength, your confidence will begin to go up in every area (as long as you are eating intelligently).

When we follow a sustainable and intelligent workout plan we can expect increased energy, confidence, and self-esteem as our return on investment. Gaining muscle also teaches you an impotant lesson about achieving goals. You become more confident in your ability to achieve because you know (from personal experience) that if you can find the right path, all reasonable goals are achieveable.

Having muscle will also give you the confidence that comes with looking good. Having a body that clothes fit is a good feeling. You also will feel more confident at the pool and in the locker room, and everywhere else!

Aerobic Fitness will Make you More Energetic

My fitness journey started with weightlifting. As written above, this created some awesome changes. I must admit, though, that it did not substantially increase my energy levels. It was not until I got serious about aerobic fitness that these benefits became a part of my daily life.

Lets do a little thought experiment. What gives us energy? Calories! So it would stand to reason that the most energetic people in society would be those who have access to the most calories…overfat people. Not true! The most energetic people are the most metabolically efficient people…fit people!

How do we become fit? After years of experimenting, my belief (and the belief of the majority of the scientific community) is that most of our physical fitness will come from our aerobic fitness, with muscle and strength at a close second. All long term healthy and fit people have a high level of aerobic fitness. We can increase our aerobic fitness in a number of ways, but the best way is intentionally stimulating that pathway through aerobic exercise. Measuring the heart rate is the standard way we can make sure we are “keeping it aerobic”.

Well, those are three ways being fit will make you a better person. What has your fitness journey been like? Until next time…

How Social Media has Changed the Way We Feel (and what to do about it)

I can remember it clear as day. It was around the Spring of 2014. I was teaching in a high school when they suddenly started appearing…everywhere. Instagram and Twitter handles began popping up in the most annoying places (most annoyingly on desks and my class set of whiteboards). Within weeks, students were writing their handles everywhere for all to see. Of course the most popular students’ accounts began blowing up and the main topic of conversation (not math, to my demise) was “How many followers do you have?”

When Change Happens Quickly

Whenever change happens quickly, there are a number of consequences of that change that we cannot (and sometimes do not want to) see. When I reflect upon the massive change that social media has brought into our culture, I think one of the main consequences none of us saw was how it would affect our mental health.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and spout off any statistics, but it has been my experience that since the rise of social media, mental health has been a growing concern for young people (particularly adolescents). I’m not making a scientific case (yes, I know, the nerds will get angry), but it seems that social media has made us slightly more unhappy.

And I have a hypothesis for why…

You (and I) Probably are the 99%

You see, social media gives us eyes into the lives of others. Of course we follow our friends and maybe our Aunt, but the majority of people we follow and look forward to posts from are the 1%. Likely less. Something more along the lines of the 0.001%.

I’m no hater. Success should be celebrated. And any adult knows that any self-made successful person has paid a price to get there. But many young people don’t know that.

Imagine you are 13 (scary right?!?!) and all day you are surrounded by images of people, some who are your age, who by all accounts look like they are living extravagant lives. And of course, all of these glossy celebrities always have a success line a-la-Tony-Robbins about why their life is so glamorous (“Just work hard and be positive. Oh yeah, and buy my stuff!”). What are you going to think about yourself? Your prospects? Your ability to achieve a lifestyle even a fraction of what theirs is?

Adults can see that not only are the lifestyles of the rich and famous unsustainable for everyone to have, but we also see that all of their posts are a clever montage of only the best, most fabulous moments of their life. No celebrities post photos of themselves tripping up the stairs or spilling coffee on themselves on the regular, but we know these are the experiences that make up everyones extravagantly normal lives.

As adults we need to remind children (and ourselves) of what is truly important in life. Young people today are at risk for being swept away by materialism and hedonism (perhaps no more than any other generation). We need to temper these images of excess with a reinforcement of what really makes us happy, and encourage goals that are not only achievable, but healthy and attainable for all people (or at the very least all people in the Western world). In my assessment these goals would be financial independence, positive relationships, good health, and passionate work.

Don’t Forget the Fyre Festival

My wife and I have been glued to the television screen watching the Fyre Festival documentaries. I think this is the perfect example of how social media can damage our ability to stay connected with reality. Thousands of experience-hungry young people see their favorite celebrities and models posting about an amazing experience that turned out to be the exact opposite. In the process not only was a lot of money lost, but a lot of lives were irreparably damaged because a few people got carried away in the glitz and glam (and didn’t have a good accountant?).

It also teaches us another lesson. Glitz and glam are fine. I like to partake in luxury experiences from time to time myself so I am not one to judge. But…most of what makes those experiences awesome are things that we can have without paying thousands of dollars to go to Pablo Escobar’s island to do (good food, good people, music, entertainment, etc.).

In my estimation there is a serious case of cultural lag with regard to social media. I would not be surprised to see (in the near future) a good deal of legislation surrounding social media and its use. But, while we are still in the days of the “wild wild west” of social media, stay aware of how this cultural phenomena can seep deeper and deeper into our lives. Until next time…