So much of the work I did – and still do – in taking control of my body involves what seems like a very basic thing… Changing habits. But I’m continually learning that this is one of those things where you do it once, then assume you’ve mastered it until you hit a wall and realize you need to do it again. And again. And again. So it has been with my own habits. Just when I think I’ve mastered “good habits”, I find that I’ve really just mastered the art of telling myself I have good habits.
I was about to have a meta-discussion right here about my reasoning for writing a post like this, but I stopped caring half way through… meaning I’m sure readers don’t care either. Bottom line: it’s my party and I’ll write what I want to.
So I’m massive now. In a very literal sense massive. I’ve shot up to 255 lbs. I had no idea I’d gotten so large and really didn’t believe it except that I kept hearing from people, “Dude you’re huge. Looking swole.” I’d brush it off but people seemed to insist… I was visibly bigger. So I hopped on the scale to discover, lo and behold, I’m bigger. Much bigger. 12-15 lbs bigger in fact. Another instance, I guess, of not seeing progress in your own self.
I’m Colossal… And it’s actually kind of alarming. You may recall I discussed some of my goals in previous posts (here and here), and while my coverage of my bodybuilding schedule has become embarrassingly lax – a problem I’m seeking to fix, I promise! – my goals are the same: roughly 260 lbs and I’d like to level out under 10% bodyfat. I haven’t checked my bodyfat recently. 2 weeks ago it was 9.5%, but I was also 242 lbs so there’s no rational universe in which all this weight is muscle (or is there…?). I’ll check my bodyfat in a week just disabuse myself of the idea that this is all good weight. For now, I’m kinda happy.
The thing is, though, I wasn’t trying to gain weight. I’ve been hoping to cut weight. I realize that I’m shockingly endomorphic and can eat barely anything and still put on muscle – my buddy Aaron balked and said he hated me when I mentioned my weight haha – but I try to bake that into the cake when managing my body.
I’ve obviously failed pretty spectacularly on that front if I’ve accidentally gained in the neighborhood of 25 pounds this spring. So it’s time to face fact and have a little Come to Jesus meeting with myself.
There are two main failures I think: one about orthodoxy (right belief) and one about orthopraxis (right action)… (behold my literary-historical nerd peeking out haha). My failure of orthopraxis is going about this process basically wrong from the get-go… and may be partially because I’m working with a training partner, weirdly enough. My buddy’s goal is to get hugely strong and enter a strongman type competition. Fine: excellent goal. What it requires, though, is slow, heavy lifting to build the body and increase power. And while that’s generally a great way to go, it isn’t exactly a cutting program. So I’ve been lifting with him and doing basically a routine I designed to get him huge… and, surprise surprise, I’m getting huge. (He is too, incidentally. He’s visibly bigger than when he started lifting with me)
What I need to do is find a way to go through a much higher volume routine and stop lifting in the 6-8 range that he needs. I really shouldn’t be surprised if I gain a ton of weight by lifting in a way that gains a ton of weight, but I guess I wasn’t paying too close attention! The fix is to change to higher volumes of exercise and not as much weight. My bridges and pyramids routine will be good for this, but I’ll modify the pyramid part to shave down the weight a bit.
My failure of Orthodoxy is more stinging… I need to just face the music and realize that I can’t be social in the same way I’ve been used to being social. I love going out with my friends, I love going out to restaurants and movies and bars and everything else. But pizza and popcorn and candy and especially booze are not going to get me where I want to go. Even in my already limited way, those things are holding me back. (This past week is a poor example probably… went to New York and clicked “vacation mode” in my brain, which meant “gorge yourself”…) So what to do?
I think I’ll basically just have to reevaluate how I’m social. I won’t be eating the same things as other people and I won’t be drinking at all. So much of being social involves these two things that it’s kind of a hard task I’ve set before me, but at the end of the day I have to decide it’s worth it. I’ll just be sober. And clean. And kinda boring.
You know, I feel like I’ve said this before, but maybe I’ve talked around this issue specifically without actually hitting it. It ties into the things I’ve already said about bodytypes, about my own struggle with losing weight and discovering my strengths, and into my discussions about eating. I think of it recently because I’ve been out lightly advertising for my personal training business in Chicago and I’ve been asked several times about bulking. Guys see my recent pictures and say something to the effect of “Oh man, what did you do to get so big? Can you tell me what you do when you’re bulking??”
My secret is this guys: the body you see here is me having never bulked on purpose. I’m always, always, always doing something to cut weight. Here’s how this works.
I sometimes wonder about the focus of fitness magazines as I’m walking through the store and see them on the rack. I’ve mentioned before that I think the industry misses the mark a lot of the time with regards to overweight people, and the lines of fitness magazines on the rack at the grocery store are a good example of just how. A lot of the articles you’ll see are about that last 10 or 15 pounds, or how to “finally” shed that belly fat… But what about the guy who is just getting started? It seems to me as if fitness magazines will be one of the first resources that a fat guy picks up when he wants to lose weight – it was the first thing I picked up, after all. They’re visible, they’re accessible, and they’re relatively low-investment… but they also tend to focus on guys near the top of their game. Which is fine, in some ways: that’s part of the mission of Men’s Health and their declared readership. But I think fitness magazines – men’s magazines in particular, since I think women’s mags do a slightly better job of this – would be well served to push the border a little and try to rope in the casual or even beginning health nut. What if someone is just “interested” but not a committed follower?
In a world obsessed with losing that last 10 pounds to finally see that washboard stomach for beach season, what’s a guy to do if his problem is tackling that first ten pounds?
A friend and former student of mine was asking me a question today that dovetails with something I’ve been thinking about for a while. He contacted me through facebook and told me that he had strained his neck doing lat pulldowns and wanted to know 1) how he had done that and 2) how he could avoid doing that in the future. Basically I suggested that he was probably doing the exercise wrong, but wrong for reasons that he (and most people) aren’t aware of.
When someone is doing an exercise incorrectly, there are only a few reasons why that might be the case. The first is that they simply don’t know how the exercise is done. For some motions, like Deadlift or Squat, this can be both an easy mistake and a very dangerous one. The form for both of these motions is deceptively specific, as it should be, since failing to do this motion correctly can lead to serious and long term lower back injuries. The second (though not necessarily mutually exclusive) reason is that the wrong way of doing it is just easier and lets you do more weight and feel like you’re doing something impressive. But the reason it is easier – and the reason that way is wrong – may be surprising. And it ties in with how my friend hurt his neck.
I told him, “If you strained your neck, you may have been using too much weight. When you strain a muscle that doesn’t seem to be used for a given motion, it means that your body is recruiting secondary muscles to get through that motion (because the primary ones aren’t up to the job). It’s gonna hurt for a minute, but it’ll get better in a week or so. In the future, watch your weight and make sure your form is flawless. If you have good form in a motion, then your body can’t recruit other muscles (and if you can’t do a motion with good form, lighten the weight!)”
So let’s look at three different exercises that a lot of people are doing wrong and why they’re wrong.
For the last few weeks I’ve obviously been doing my bodybuilder challenge. Part of the challenge is to get my bodyfat percentage to an athletic level and that struggle isn’t just a physical one for me. It’s largely a psychological one that requires me to really change the way I looked at weight for most of my life.
Here after week 3 I’m beginning to wonder if every week is a mixed bag! Some things were great and some things were not. Though perhaps the things that weren’t great were mostly just perception and not reality – holdovers from when I was seriously fat that I haven’t quite shaken yet.