Dude, where’s my butt?

So….part of losing 40+ pounds for me included losing what used to be my behind. Somehow at 125.5 pounds I still manage to be 28.7% body fat. But I now have a much flatter derriere than I used to. I don’t remember the source but someone once referred to MPAL as Male Pattern Ass Loss. So I suppose I have FPAL.

As I have lifted weights for years, I am sure I can put on some more muscle but there will be no super-stupendous newbie gains for me.

Excellent resource!

That said, I have always responded pretty well to training. About a month ago I started using the Strong Curves book by Bret Contreras & Kellie Davis. So far so good. I am still in the first few weeks and hence am not yet doing heavy lifts but rather am working on strengthening and activation which I presume will stand me in good stead when I start doing the heavier lifts. I have never trained my glutes specifically as a focus and it feels good.

Looking forward to reporting progress.

Big Change: Smaller Me

I’ve lost over 40 pounds since last June
Sunrise out the window of Planet Fitness

I am definitely not a very consistent blogger and it interests me that somehow reporting in real time on what has been a gargantuan accomplishment for me did not seem desirable or possible while it’s been happening. I mentioned back in November– in my first post in 3 years– that I had lost over 25 pounds. I did go on to do what I said in November, to move into the mid range of a healthy BMI.

Back in January I joined Planet Fitness. While I know hard core body builders and weight lifters look at PF with derision it’s been wonderful for me. I began using New Rules of Lifting for Life (Thank you @LouSchuler and @AlwynCosgrove) to develop workouts and have diligently been following those routines three times per week since. I learned that it is actually possible for me to get out of the house at 6:30AM to get in an hour workout before work. I honestly did not believe that I could do that consistently twice a week. My body fat percentage is still right at 30% and I am determined to slowly reduce that and build more muscle. I am amazed when I look at the clothes that fit me now. I hold something up and automatically think “no way my body’s going to fit into that” so it will clearly take some time for all those elements to gel but I feel good and am very proud of what I’ve done so far.

Time Travel

Sample Image from Leopard Book

Sample Image from Leopard Book

Recently I watched the 2004 movie “Primer, ” a science-fiction thriller about some engineers who figure out how to achieve time travel.  The movie, according to one analysis, has nine different timelines going in it at one time.  Recently also I acquired Dr. Kelly Starrett’s book “Becoming a Supple Leopard” which is an amazing reference and resource on treating chronic pain, stiffness and bodily dysfunction in general. I have always thought of weightlifting and other fitness pursuits as being like a fountain of youth. Having been working with the exercises in this book for about a week I think this book is more like a time machine.

Starrett is the brains behind the website mobilitywod. I understand that his initial push to bring his wisdom to the masses was to post a video each day on a different topic for 365 days. His website is divided into information by subscription for professional trainers and practitioners and free stuff for the lay public.

I have been using the exercises shown and described in the book to work on particular body parts that are either themselves giving me problems or resulting in my moving in weird ways to compensate for them. An example of this is my ankles. They are tight enough that my squatting motion is restricted–and has been for years–making me most comfortable turning my feet out slightly or elevating my heels on a board. If I don’t do this my body will just tip over backwards. Starrett includes a number of tests like this to help one assess one’s own priority areas of physical dysfunction. Working on my tight ankles is going to take some time. Some other areas such as the low back, it’s helpful to have guidance on how much effort is needed to effect change in these areas. Let me say that “smash” is a word Starrett uses frequently in this text and I think he’s onto something. Some of the work I’ve been doing has resulted in parts that are immediately feeling better and more mobile. I am less stiff when I get up from sitting. Hence the time machine analogy.

I’ve been going at this for the past week for about 30 minutes a day. I’ve curtailed some of my other activities to fit it in but I honestly believe that by allowing body parts to function properly I may have built more strength and power in the last week without additional lifting than I would have bringing my years of built-up tightness to my weightlifting workouts.

Figuring out my 5/3/1 system

Franco Columbu

Franco Columbu (courtesy Wikipedia)

I’ve done my first six workouts using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 as a guide and it’s beginning to make sense. The basic framework is workouts built around four lifts: squat, deadlift, shoulder press and bench press with a different exercise as the main focus of each workout. The framework includes doing 3 sets of 5 reps of that exercise plus a PR set each workout in stage 1. Stage 2 is 3 sets of 3 reps plus the PR set. The workouts also include a warm up and assistance exercises. According to the author, one should be able to be in and out of the weight room in 30 to 35 minutes.  The workout can be structured for 2, 3 or 4 days per week. The basic set is followed by one PR set where you go for as many reps as you can. Following this are assistance exercises. I’ve been adding three different exercises for three sets but I suspect that I should be doing about 5 of these exercises. Also this plan calls for maintaining some level of aerobic fitness outside of the weight room. Both the New Rules of Lifting for Women and the Female Body Breakthrough were more designed to use the resistance exercise as Interval Training and counseled against maintaining an aerobic regime in addition to the lifting.

I will need someone to spot my bench presses eventually which makes this less convenient for me as someone who typically works out alone or I will have to modify the routines to incorporate some other kind of chest workout. And while I like the freedom to do the assistance exercises I feel like doing in a particular workout I am also concerned that it may not force me outside of my comfort zone. In New Rules of Lifting there were some exercises I really didn’t like. Of course typically I don’t like an exercise because I don’t do it very well which is because I need to work harder at it. So my challenge with 5/3/1 will be choosing assistance exercises other than my favorites.


A Trabant 601 Limousine. Trabants were manufac...

A Trabant 601 Limousine. Trabants were manufactured in East Germany between 1957 and 1991, and exported throughout the Eastern Bloc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing the field of sports is good at is taking perfectly good English words and giving them new, obscure meanings.  When I started considering following Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 strength training program I jumped on Wikipedia to see what “periodization” meant. It’s defined as: “the attempt to categorize Universal History or divide time into named blocks.” So in this context it means giving  names to time periods such as the “Late Middle Ages.” Thank goodness there was also definition on Wikipedia for “Sports Periodization” which is “an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period.”

This monograph by Frederick Claro tells us that periodized sports training was developed in the 1960’s by the Eastern bloc countries. “Periodization of training,” says Claro  “had much to do with the superiority of eastern athletes over their western counterparts for more than two and half decades and in numerous sport activities.” (sic) It sounds pretty good to me.

It seems to me that the workout programs I’ve been doing for the past couple of years—New Rules of Lifting for Women with workout by Alwyn Cosgrove and Female Body Breakthrough by Rachel Cosgrove—take this concept into consideration in their design but don’t trouble the reader with thinking about it very much. My 5/3/1 book arrived just two days ago and I have only scratched the surface.  I like the idea that pursuing the goal of getting stronger in the four major lifts and the work that it takes to do that will address the ancillary objectives I have for my health and appearance. It’s nice to have something simple, though of course not easy, to work on.

My New Rules of Lifting for Women Level 4

M27, The Dumbbell Nebula

M27, The Dumbbell Nebula (Photo credit: lightclad)

As I’ve noted before, I started New Rules of Lifting for Women in 2010 and then blew out my arm not by working out. So this is actually as far as I have ever progressed on this series of workouts.

After changing jobs a little over a month ago I am finally getting back into a groove with respect to working out. For me three times per week is great for making progress but it’s hard to fit in around work and civic pursuits.  Two times per week is sufficient to progress at a more moderate clip. Once per week is just not enough and I get very sore after lifting. I’ve been doing pretty well lately with workout frequency.

Today’s workout: Stage 4 Workout B

Wide-grip deadlift from box 3 sets 8 reps 87.75 lbs

Bulgarian split squat 3 sets 8 reps 18+lbs

Underhand grip lat pulldown 3 sets 8 reps 55 lbs

Reverse lunge from box 3 sets 8 reps 10 x 2 lbs

Dumbbell prone Cuban Snatch 3 sets 8 reps; 1 set 2 x 5 lbs; 2 sets 2 x 8 lbs

Swiss ball crunch Bodyweight 2 sets x 8 reps

Reverse crunch Bodyweight 2 sets x 8 reps

Oblique twist (my modification) Bodyweight 2 sets 8 reps

Prone cobra 1 set 40 seconds

I need to kick it up a notch with the Prone Cobra and the Plank. The durations expected and what I can do right now are pretty far apart. It’s totally normal to shy away from what comes with difficulty and that’s the case here.

What Inspires Me to Work Out

English: weight lifting

I am happy to take inspiration anywhere I can get it. Seriously. Years ago my pattern with exercising would sometimes be that things got hectic at work and in the rest of my life and I stopped doing everything physical. Those breaks sometimes lasted as long as six months. Thank goodness a friend and I started walking about 4 miles together in a local park on Sunday mornings. I think we’ve been doing that about ten years. One absolutely crucial effect of this routine is that it keeps me from getting into one of those no-exercise phases. There were times when the weekly walk was the only exercise I did. More recently it’s often icing on the cake. The New Rules of Lifting for Women calls it “active recovery” I believe. That is, something you do that’s not actually strenuous enough to be exercise but is good calorie-burning activity that allows you to be ready for more weight lifting the next day.

The fitness efforts of friends real and virtual also inspire me. From friends that are making great strides with their own levels of fitness and sharing awe-inspiring lifting, running and biking accomplishments to those whom I see looking great as they change their body composition in positive ways. Someone tweets that he’s at the gym or someone posts that she’s hit a new PR, that helps me feel inspired to hit the weights myself.

I also find it helpful to work on a program. I am quite capable of coming up with exercise routines for myself but I find that I do better when I have the guidance, structure and variety of routines put together by experts.  I know people are sometimes surprised to learn that I work out by myself in my basement and that I do keep at it. Ironically, for me the need to tear myself away from home to go to the gym would at this point in my life be a de-motivator and not a motivator.

Probably the biggest motivator of all is seeing results. This is especially motivating at first when one is making initial gains but one needs to be satisfied with more subtle progress as one goes farther on the fitness journey. A friend of mine recently introduced me to stickk.com which uses a combination of things to get one to set goals and stick to them including making donations to charities that one doesn’t like if one fails to meet a goal, having referees and friends to support the effort. This all coming from the results of a Yale study on what helps people stick to goals. I am not using it yet for that but the possibilities seem intriguing.

Warming Up

Rubber Bands

Gotta Stretch

Warming up always seems like it adds time I don’t have to my workouts. So I go into it with a slightly jaundiced attitude. This despite that I’ve seen over the years that stretching absolutely helps me continue to progress without injury in meeting my workout goals.

I am old enough to remember when static stretching was practiced.  But even as far back as the 1980’s we knew that ballistic stretching was a bad thing. What was promoted at the time was stretches you held for 30 seconds or longer.  You can now buy the 30th Anniversary edition of  Bob Anderson’s classic book that was the bible on this topic.

The most useful innovation I’ve encountered regarding warming up is the concept of dynamic stretching. Frankly, it looks funny but it seems to work.  The chief promulgators of this that have impressed me are Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson who market their knowledge via  the Magnificent Mobility website. To me a longtime hobbyist and layperson, they really seem to know what they’re talking about. Most of their information is available via subscription but there is also free information under the heading “dynamic stretching” on You Tube including warm up routines specific to different kinds of training. The website Sports Fitness Advisor has a simple set of exercises with handy moving diagrams.

The point of this type of stretching is that it is done through movement. Rather than just being stretches, dynamic stretches are themselves exercises that not only contribute to mobility but also begin warming up the body in advance of working out. At least six different stretches should form the start of your workout and become an integral part your exercise program each time you hit the gym

My Legacy Dumbbells

About 20 years ago I lived in the region of the country near York, Pennsylvania.  During those years I began a collection of York dumbbells starting with a single set of 5lbs.  There may be nicer ones on the market but I love these.  Eventually I added 8s and 10s and 12s. The last purchase was a set of 15s. Frankly it took me years to have much I could do with this last pair though now I use them regularly.  York still sells this style of weight. They’re called “legacy” dumbbells which is a synonym for “if you own these you were probably born long ago.” I’ve now put together 16+ and 18+ pounds sets from plate weights, little threaded weight bars and collars. I’ve been wondering if it might be time for a set of 20s from York.  An alternative course would be taking the plunge and buying a pair of those dial-controlled adjustable dumbbells. I gave a pair of these to my dad as a gift last father’s day. I guess the best gifts are the ones we really want ourselves… For him it was a good idea because he has access to a good gym at work but seemed to have pretty little equipment at home. I was hoping mom might take advantage of them also. For me the benefit would be that my house is tiny and all the separate weights take up more room.  That said, I must confess an emotional attachment to my weight set. It would probably be hard to give them up.

Finally Back to NROLFW

Front of right upper extremity.

Typically I learn the names of body parts by injuring them

I started New Rules of Lifting for Women the first time in March of 2010. I loved it. I was amazed by how quickly my body seemed to be changing. Then in mid April I was carrying some furniture at work to set up for an event and without realizing I was straining my arm to this extent, managed to tear both my right biceps and brachialis. This manifested itself in a bloody, purple bruise the origin of which I did not immediately grasp. Being me I figured since I didn’t hurt my arm working out, I didn’t have to stop working out. I know that makes no sense. But the injustice of doing something that isn’t really even my job at work, hurting myself and as a result being forced to stop doing what I love was just too harsh to accept. I kept working out another three months with a sore arm.

Around July I clued in that I was never going to heal this way and I dragged myself to a sports medicine physician who in turn sent me to a physical therapist (PT). When the latter told me our work together was to get me pain free I almost cried I was so tired of being in constant pain. I spent the summer doing my PT exercises and working on walk-run intervals and abdominal/core work.  My core was abysmally weak I had learned in starting New Rules and I was eager to improve that before getting back to it.

In November 2010 I took the plunge and started Stage 1 again. This time for any exercise that involved the  brachialis in any significant way I substituted my PT exercises.  I completed Stage 1 this way. As it was still clear that I was not going to be able to push myself in New Rules, I opted not to  continue with this program sought interval and body-weight exercises that I could continue to do without needing to push my arm too far.

I finally felt able to get going again in June 2011 when I started the Female Body Breakthrough program. Having just completed that I am now ready to return at last to New Rules of Lifting for Women. I am coming back to it quite a bit stronger than I was when I began. I also credit FBB with continually allowing me to progress in terms of strength without hurting anything.  I think this is due to the super long full body warm up that precedes and is part of each workout. Though it sometimes bored me– it remains the same throughout the whole program– I think it was the reason the program was so successful in allowing me to build strength injury-free. More on that in a future post.