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Working Out

So over this summer, I’ve slowly re-dedicated myself to getting fit, and trying more seriously to shed the extra 45 pounds or so that have accumulated since graduate school.

Yeah, that’s right: 45 pounds.  70 if you count the change from college days.

It all started, really, with heading back to another favorite activity, reading Metafilter. I was reading in the Ask MeFi section, and someone else had asked about getting into shape … eventually, the best-formed responses pointed to Starting Strength, a newish book that went into exacting detail on how to perform five basic exercises with barbells.  I liked the perceived simplicity of this approach, and decided to dive in.

The idea is that rather than fart around with a million isolation exercises, it’s far more useful to perform a small number of compound exercises that stress numerous muscle groups at once: the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, the press, and the power clean.

I had bench pressed in the past, of course, and even recently.  Pressing (aka “military press”) had also been a part of my gym routine at various points, but always on a machine.  Starting Strength eschews machines as mostly useless, arguing that real strength stems from the interaction of muscle groups and heavy loads (which is a polite way of saying that machines are essentially goddamn useless).  I started in late June, even taking on the complex and scary-seeming power clean (pull a loaded bar off the ground, and when it gets above your knees, you jump, shrug, and flip the bar onto your shoulders in one coordinated motion).  Here are the weights I started with:

  • Squat: 95 lbs.
  • Bench Press: 95 lbs.
  • Deadlift: 95 lbs.
  • Press: 60 lbs.
  • Power Clean: 45 lbs. (empty bar)

Now, about 3 months later, here’s where I am:

  • Squat: 240 lbs. (3 sets of 5 reps [3x5])
  • Bench: 155 lbs. 3×5
  • Deadlift: 235 lbs. 1×5
  • Press: 100 lbs. 3×5
  • Power Clean: 115 lbs. 5×3

Pretty awesome!  My presses are pretty weak, still, but getting slowly better. The goal is to work through this program until the baby is born. That means I should fit in 6-10 more sessions, if I’m lucky.

The tricky part of all this was where it led me once I started. before I knew it, I was peeking more and more over at Crossfit, and their message boards, which slowly turned me around from thinking “that’s some stupid crap right there” to “damn, I really want to try that crazy shit!”  So slowly the plan developed to shift from Starting Strength to Crossfit after I’m back at work following baby leave.  The advantage is one of time — my weightlifting workouts are taking up nearly 2 hours now (from leaving the office to getting back), whereas most Crossfit workouts max out around 30-45 minutes.  That does not include warmup, stretching, skill work, etc., but since most workouts are really in the 10-20-minute range (ideally), the actual gym time will decrease.  Also, they look insanely fun.

But in addition to making me want to do nutty CF workouts, I found myself reading more and more about nutrition (big deal among Crossfitters).  CF is big into the Zone and/or Paleo eating (often a combination thereof), which is interesting, but not for me (the Zone, that is).  Paleo eating has a dumb name — OK, a REALLY dumb name — but the basics are super-easy, and the food meshes nicely with things I really like anyway: meat, fish, and vegetables. But more than that, all this curiosity led me to read Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes, which served to blow up everything I thought I knew about food and nutrition.

Briefly: the low-carb folks were and are right; the science that proves fat is bad for us is barely even science, and inconclusive at that; high carb consumption can be calmly linked to certain cancers, atherosclerosis, high levels of the bad forms of cholesterol, diabetes, etc., etc.; exercise serves primarily to increase strength and fitness while not doing a great job of losing lots of excessive weight.

All that made me shift my eating habits in the late summer to an almost-entirely carb-free mode, the result of which was losing 7 pounds in about 10 days.  Ain’t easy, though, to pull that off with a preganat wife around! Also, I was slowly coming to the understanding that an intensive weightlifting regimen was at complete odds with “clean” eating — the body needs tons and tons of food if you’re lifting tons and tons of weight. The Starting Strength recommendation, in fact, is to add a gallon of milk a day (GOMAD) to your everyday diet, and eat more to boot.  Whole milk.  A gallon.  Daily.

Wow.

I wasn’t doing that.  I have added rather a lot of milk, for me, to my daily diet, and I’m eating more (the see-food plan: see food, eat food); that’s resulted in the lifts being “easier” relatively speaking than they were.  I do intend to slide into a more “Primal” eating plan, as described here, after the baby is born.  I know that even minimal attention to that kind of eating results in quick weight shedding (while I was still building strength!), so I’m not really worried about any untoward fattening in the next three weeks or so. The big takeaway, which I only realized recently, is that different fitness goals require different eating plans.  Paleo/Primal + Crossfit is a great blend, which conveniently works out well long-term for one’s health; heavy lifting and heavy eating aren’t so great for long-term health, but are awesome for building impressive amounts of strength and muscle in a short period of time.  And any negative effects can be addressed after that type of cycle is completed.  There are also plenty of ways to go about heavy lifting cycles without eating the “bad” stuff, it’s just slightly more complex.

So after all this, I stand right now, still 5 pounds less than I was in June, WAY stronger than I probably ever have been, and ready to get even healthier and stronger.  So yeah, that’s what I did over my summer “vacation.”

2 Responses to “Working Out”

  1. 1
    Mark Sisson:

    Amazing improvement with the weights. Glad to hear your aiming more Primal, always interested in the progress. Thanks for the link!

  2. 2
    andrew ager, dot com » Resolute:

    [...] second big shift came last summer. (See this post.)  Again, it sprang from a desire to change, but also from a lot of reading and research. And it [...]

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