Day 71 – 8 Week Results

The time has come for me to take a break from lifting. My body is in desperate need of some extensive healing and stretching. The timing couldn’t be more perfect though. Friday I’m on vacation, Monday I’m working from home and next Friday my gym will be closed for graduation. Trying to shove a lifting session in the middle of all of that is probably not worth the effort. So I will spend the next 11 days stretching, resting and doing a bit of cardio.

So now is the time to check the numbers and evaluate my progress.

Starting numbers as of April 1st. Three sets of five for all lifts (3 x 5)

  • Squat: 135
  • Bench: 160
  • Dead: 195
  • Press: 70

Latest numbers as of June 3rd.

  • Squat: 225 (+90) 67% increase
  • Bench: 205 (+45) 28% increase
  • Dead: 265 (+70) 36% increase
  • Press: 115 (+45)  64% increase

Looking at these numbers I have to say that I’m pretty impressed. I remember a time ten or twelve years ago when I was *about* this strong, but I wasn’t doing squats or deadlifts. So it might be valid to say that I’ve never been stronger! That’s amazing to me and something I wasn’t even expecting!

Obviously these types of gains cannot progress forever and I’m sure that I will eventually switch to a 3 day split. But for now I plan to continue the StrongLifts progression and finally add in the desperately needed barbell rows every other workout.

The common advice is to deload by 10% on all lifts after a week off, so this is where I will be starting on June 15th:

  • Squat: 200
  • Bench: 185
  • Rows: 155*
  • Dead: 240
  • Press: 95

Regarding rows, on my first day back to the gym I will increase the weight every set until  5 reps becomes difficult and that will be my work set weight for the next session.

Whew! That’s a lot of number crunching. And I haven’t even mentioned my diet yet!

It goes without saying that I’m hoping to stay on target with my macros during the week off from the gym. My new numbers (200/150/50) seem to be working well for me (so far at least). The next few days will be fraught with temptations – 3 birthday parties and a trip to Atlantic City – so I need to stay focused and plan around these calorie bombs!

I’m not sure how often I will post to this blog. 2 or 3 times at least just to keep myself accountable. Here’s to the next 8 weeks!!

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Day 69 (tee hee!), Squat Practice

2015-06-01 11.52.51After a couple days of ice and heat on my hip, I went back to the gym this morning to work on my squat form. It’s really is humbling when I drop 90 pounds off my previous PR and realize that there are still plenty of things to tweak about my form.

I ended up doing about 5 sets of 5 at 135, going very slow, trying to get below parallel and keeping the rest of my form precise. I spent a lot of time warming up my shoulders and experimenting with bar placement. In a nutshell, I’ve been placing the bar a bit too low and keeping my hands too wide. Once I corrected that, things felt better.

The final tip I got from a fellow gym-goer was to be cognizant of any bend or curve in my back on the way up. Prior to today I’ve always been concentrating on using my hips to raise up out of the low position and probably neglected any attention on keeping my back straight and chest up. But I think I’ve got it now. I swear, the squat is hardest exercise to do with proper form, but it’s really rewarding when you get it right!

After squats I put up 115 on the overhead press for 2 sets of 5 and then only got 3 on the final set. This is fine since my goal is 115 and I will have one more workout next week before the break.

2015-06-01 12.23.14

Finally I loaded the deadlift bar with 265 (after warming up of course) and got a nice set of 5. I constantly go back and forth between doing one or multiple sets of deads. I think trying to do 3 sets of 5 last week may have been too much.

Diet wise, I’ve changed up my macros (yes, again!). I’m still not a fan of the carb cycling even though I’ve had a few good days doing it. As I’ve stated before on this blog, I think it adds another level of complication to menu preparation.

So I’ve simplified my numbers:

200c
150p
50f

Based on all of the literature I’ve read and all of the advice I’ve received I now declare these to be my magic numbers! And while I’m not sure that these numbers will affect my fat loss in either direction compared to what I’ve done up until now, they seem to be three numbers I can live and work with. The overall calories for these macros is 1850 which by most calculations is about a 500 calorie deficit per day if I’m working out 3 days a week. Even better, these numbers are easy to track and remember.

From here the plan is to go to the gym Wednesday and Thursday (I’m off Friday) and then take next week off entirely from lifting weights. I must say that I’m looking forward to the break!

Day 66, Why Carb Cycling Sucks

It’s vent time everyone one! I fucking hate carb cycling. There, it’s out.

Part of the reason why I hate it is because it’s effective. I have a hard time getting through the day without at least 100g of carbs and yet as I survive more and more of these low carb days, I feel the weight falling off and my clothes fitting looser.

But to what end? Is it better to be fat and happy or skinny and miserable?

Obviously the answer is somewhere in the middle, but even after 66 days, I don’t think I’ve found that middle yet. I’m tired of spending so much energy planning meals and logging macros. I already have a job, dammit! And there are so many things that are more deserving of my time and attention.

To be successful with carb cycling two things need to happen:

1. I need to plan more. Full blown menus for every meal except dinner for all carb cycling days. Plan it, buy it, prepare it and go.

2. Sometimes I need food that makes me happy. Sometimes I need to look forward to my meal instead of just being a robot all the time. I need sweet, savory, salty and crunchy.

So here are 3 things we’re going to do:

  • Fruit. Yes its carbs and sugar, but it comes with fiber and paired with a high protein meal it makes me feel better. 2 servings/day.
  • Rice with my breakfast. In fact, I’m happy to commit to the same exact breakfast 4 days/week. 1/2 cup of rice, 2 eggs, 3 turkey sausages or 4 strips of turkey bacon.
  • Quest bars. No, they’re not as tasty as Combat Crunch, but they’re cheaper and they have 17 grams of fiber.

That’s it and that’s all! Vent over, let’s move on.

Didn’t wake up early enough for the gym so I’m heading over right before lunchtime. Frankly I’m a little scared of doing squats @ 230. We shall see…

Day 64, Back to the Gym

Yesterday’s macros were not as difficult to stick to as I thought. I logged everything as precisely as I could, including trace macros. The only thing I excluded was the green veggies from the 2 salads I ate. Here is the final tally:

  • Protein: 183
  • Carbs: 60
  • Fat: 80

The largest amount of carbs (22g) came from the 1/2 cup of brown rice that I added to my eggs and turkey sausage for my first meal. The interesting thing was that at no time during the day was I ravenously hungry. In fact I needed to force myself to eat my afternoon snack.

This morning I returned to the gym after 4 days off and did

  • Deadlift: 265 x 5 x 2, 265 x 4
  • Overhead Press: 110 x 5 x 3
  • Cable Rows: 100 x 10, 120 x 8, 140 x 8

2015-05-27 07.01.19The deadlift and press are new PRs, but I failed to get the last rep on the last set of deads so I will do 265 again next time. I haven’t done cable rows in a long time and didn’t know where to start. 140 seems to be a good weight to stick with for next time.

And now the rest of the day will be cake. My workout is done and I have 200 grams of carbs waiting for me to consume!

Day 63, Holiday Diet Regrets.

From a dieting standpoint I’d like to try and put this weekend behind me and just move on.

peanut-butter-marshmallow-krispie-brownieSaturday was my first attempt at a no carb (read: “low carb”) day. This first attempt coincided with the first of 3 days of picnics and get-togethers where the carbs flow fast and free! For the most part, I did very well on Saturday. I allowed myself a beer but ate raw veggies instead of chips and my dogs and burgers had no buns. Then dessert came. My wife decided to make what I have now dubbed “Devil Brownies”, which are cocoa rice crispy treats on top of a fudge brownie held together with marshmallow fluff. I call them “Devil Brownies” because once you eat one the devil rises up from hell and laughs at your feeble attempts to control yourself and not eat any more. I had 3. But despite my best efforts prior to this dessert debacle, it was 9pm and I was still short about 80 grams of protein for the day.

Devil 1, Diet 0

Sunday, I awoke to find the devil had slept over and got me started on eating more of his brownies as early as 10 in the morning. By 2pm the remaining brownies were locked in Tupperware inside a bag tied very tightly on the highest shelf of the kitchen. I had eaten somewhere around 6 more. With my diet considered ruined for the day I surrendered to a dinner of pizza, fries and mojitos.

Devil 2, Diet 0

Monday, memorial day proper and a picnic at my mom’s pool. I decided to put my best foot forward and eat according to my training day macros (175p/200c/30f). Let me tell ya, that big 200 number next to the carbs really gives you some breathing room at a picnic. After a sensible breakfast and a bag of protein chips to squash the mid day snacking urge, I kept myself busy with the kids and the pool and only snacked a little before dinner. By the end of the day I was just under on calories and carbs (even considering the 2 mojitos… damn they’re delicious when it’s hot out!) but once again, very lacking in protein.

Devil 2, Diet 0 (I consider Monday to be a push. The devil didn’t win, but neither did I…)

So now here I am on a Tuesday morning, armed with renewed motivation and a shit-ton of high protein foods. All my meals are planned out and I should be able to stay under 50 grams of carbs today. But it’s a lot of freaking work! I feel the need to plan better.

2015-05-25 11.50.09But I try to never end a blog post on the negative. And yesterday I can honestly say that I felt a little better about having my shirt off. The various pictures of me by the pool didn’t invoke my normal “Yuch!” reaction, which surprised me a little bit. Seeing these photos makes me regret that I didn’t try harder for the past 6 weeks. But there is progress and a good foundation of strength to build on. Now the real challenge is not to lose focus despite all of temptations that come with the summertime mindset…

Day 59, Squat Goal Reached!

It finally happened. This morning I squatted 225!

2015-05-22 07.08.07Ever since I started doing linear progression barbell training (StrongLifts, Starting Strength, Big 3, etc.) I’ve fantasized about putting 2 45 pound plates on both sides of the bar. For some reason 2 plates seems like graduating to the next level.

After about 6 warm up sets, I loaded up the bar and sat down and stared at it for 3 minutes. The first set was a little shaky, my form was a bit off. I think I was nervous. But by the 3rd rep I realized that I wasn’t going to fail. The 2nd set was strong. By the third set I had worked up the courage (I have a bit of social anxiety) to ask one of the two college seniors working out next to me to film my final set.

There was something about the fact that they were watching or that the video was rolling (or both) that gave me confidence. When I dropped down for the first rep the bar felt abnormally light, almost as if I had lightened the weight. In retrospect after watching the video I realize that I didn’t drop low enough. In fact just about all of my reps were above parallel. After finishing the set its clear  that my form is pretty much right on. I don’t lean forward too much, the bar path is pretty straight. The bar is in a good place (for low position) and I’m breathing correctly. So really the only thing I need to work on is getting lower. From the advice of one of the guys at the gym it seems that pointing my toes out further should help this.

Here’s the video, I added annotations for where the descent didn’t go low enough.

After squatting I attempted 200 on the bench. The problem here is that my arms were completely toasted from the deep tissue massage that my wife gave me 2 nights before. I managed 5 reps on the first set, 4 reps with very little help from the spotter on the second set and 3 reps on the last set. Given the soreness of my arms I’m confident I would have gotten 3 sets of 5 had they felt normal. But I will stick with 200 next time. Regardless this is another PR even though I failed to get 3 x 5.

After that I contemplated a deadlift, but changed my mind. I was done!

So starting today, I’m back to eating via the LeanGains approach. My new macros on training days are:

  • 175 protein
  • 200 carbs
  • 30 fat

Which should work out to 1770 calories. These macros were derived by my coach on the Fitocracy program and while I think they might be a little low I’m going to go with it for now and see what happens.

By around 2pm today the Memorial Day holiday weekend will kick in and I will be challenged to maintain my new rest day macros for the first time. If I can make it to Monday and stay on target I’ve decided to reward myself with a non tracking day on Memorial Day proper, but I will stay conscious of what I’m eating and not overdo it.

Day 58, Fitocracy, Anyman Fitness and a new 12 week program!

A few days ago I received an annoying piece of spam in my inbox (annoying spam… is that redundant?) from Fitocracy. They have my email address because I signed in to the app I downloaded and used for a few days for its macro tracking abilities.

The spam was advertising Anyman Fitness  and its “12 week no-cardio fat shredding plan” which (after I researched it a bit is basically the same plan I’m on: Linear Progression Barbell Training and LeanGains). After a few back and forth emails with the coach I decided to join. The cost is $60/month, which is really not an extra expense I’d like to incur, but having someone else in charge of my diet and evaluating my progress is a very liberating idea. Fitocracy has a 2 week guarantee, so if I’m not seeing any progress I can always get a refund. I’m also not committed to the full 3 months either. So it seemed low risk enough for me to push the button.

The major difference between what I’m doing now and what I will be doing on this program is the diet. While I have some experience in IF, this program takes carb cycling to a new level by limiting you to only eat fat and protein on rest days. This sounds really scary especially when you consider that rest days for me include 2 weekend days. Now that summer is starting, those 2 weekend days will be filled with carb distractions and temptations, not to mention my full week of vacation down at the Jersey shore!

But here’s the thing. When I start to think about things logically I realize that I’ve associated “having a good time” with eating carbs. And this is the emotional food association that I HAVE to break if I’m truly going to get lean. Clearly this plan of carb cycling works if you follow it. And if I do follow it, does that mean that I won’t have any fun this summer? Of course not! There will still be picnics and parties and pool days and theme parks and beach visits. And if I want to have a beer I’ll have one! And if I want to get ice cream with the kids I will!

This gloomy feeling I have that committing to this program will ruin my summer is mentally unhealthy (although its probably normal for most people), and stems all the way back to childhood where my connection between junk food and special occasions originated. It’s not going to be easy, but I think it’s doable with the right mindset and some encouragement. Most importantly if I start to see progress, I will stick to it.

With the holiday weekend coming up, I’m not exactly sure how/when I will start adhering to the new program. I’ve decided to take 2 rest days in a row so that I will feel rested and strong on Friday when I attempt squat 225 x 5 x 3. I think I will eat normally for these two days and then switch to my new macros on Friday. Saturday and Sunday will be my first attempt at no carb rest days. And for memorial day, I might just say screw it, give me a beer and a burger!

Finally, I think it might be time for me to inspire myself with some progress photos. When you look at yourself every day you don’t see the changes. But after comparing these two photos side by side, it’s clear that I AM making progress, albeit a bit slower than I’d like. The photo on the left was taken on February 2nd 2015. The photo on the right was taken 12 weeks later on May 13th 2015. It’s also important to note that I didn’t really start getting serious about the program until March 23.

ba

Also, I’m not stupid, I know that part of my “transformation” is low lights, shadows and the angle of the lens. But it’s still a noticeable change. On Friday (officially day 60) I will take a photo in the same position and same clothes as the before photo. Then we’ll see what’s what!

*UPDATE*

Even as I’m writing this post I’ve been invited to a memorial day picnic on Saturday. I guess this will be the first true opportunity to look at food and fun differently.