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Gotta get down on Friday

Facebook is infuriating. You’d think it wouldn’t be that big a challenge to set things up so that when I publish a new post, it posts to my feed, but nay nay, it requires creating an “app”, going through a ton of privacy policy BS, and applying for some sort of approval to post to my own damn feed. I spent about two hours on it, which is about how long it would cumulatively take me to cut and paste about 400 post links to my feed manually over the next year.

Facebook: suck it.

Today I managed to get in most of the workouts I wanted to do, since zero precipitation meant I could go for a nice run, even if I did have to tread lightly so I didn’t slip on ice and turn some important joint into ligament pudding. First I did my Overhead Press and Squat workout, and was hoping to do some light bench press work but bumped up against my hour limit so I only got a few sets in. Then I ran for a half hour, nice and slow, keeping my heart rate low. (One of these days I’ll talk a bit about heart rate training.) Then throughout the day (I work from home on Fridays) I was able to get in my 30 chins, 30 pushups, and 2.5 minutes of planks. After taking off a couple weeks from all activity and watching my max chinup set drop down to 6, I was pleased that yesterday and today I maxed out at 8 and 9 rep sets, respectively.

Food-wise, I’m probably not as careful as I should be on Fridays, but figure that having lifted weights, a few extra carbs won’t kill me. After my run I ate a banana, and then got a bunch of leftover pork from last night and inhaled it, and later made some eggs with turkey bacon and toast. Dinner was chicken tacos, not my favorite, but the kids really enjoy them. I imagine before bedtime I’ll probably indulge in some cereal or other carby snacks ’cause gainz brah.

Today’s weight: 230 (-1) again. Not having significant fluctuations in carb intake like a true Leangains-style diet means not having significant fluctuations in weight, either. I haven’t been super-careful about calories this week, and plan to continue trying to eat clean without religiously counting for a few weeks, along with maintaining my 1-9pm fasting window. Hopefully that and 4-5 cardio sessions a week will help me drop fat, but if I fail to see my weight drop I’ll start counting everything I eat, which will suuuuuck.

Trying not to drown

It occurred to me that writing these things first thing in the morning and talking about the previous day is kinda dumb; it’s better for me to post them in the evening and talk about that day, so that’s what I’ma be doin’ from here on out. I also realized that links aren’t getting posted to Facebook and Twitter, so I’m fixing that; if this is the first post you see, you might wanna go back to the first day of this week and, you know, catch up. ‘Cause it’s getting real around here.

We had a last minute lunchtime meeting at the office today so I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d be able to get over to the Y for my usual swim, but that bad boy let out a few minutes after noon and I sprinted for the door. Still a bit pressed for time, I decided to just swim until I either reached 1500 yards (60 lengths of the short course pool) or started to drown.

Something that bit me in the ass a little bit during my International-distance (aka Olympic) triathlon from last August was the fact that I always breathe out of the left side when I swim. What I hadn’t anticipated was that we were going clockwise around the 1500 meter course, which meant that I couldn’t see the buoys I was meant to be passing unless I stopped to pick my head up and glance over to that side. It wasn’t a fatal issue (not nearly as badly as the current that added 10 minutes to my usual 1500m time, or the fact that I’d been eating horribly in the week prior which bit me hard while biking through the hills of northeast Maryland), but a bit concerning. I’d read of folks having issues during a swim because the waves came from one side and they couldn’t breathe to that side without inhaling water, which would be really bad if it happened to me and I wasn’t trained to breathe to the other side at all. Plus, it’s just good swimming form to breathe every 3 or 5 (or even 7) strokes because it helps keep your stroke more ambidextrous.

So I decided that the fall and winter I’d teach myself to breathe to both sides. Actually, the hard part wasn’t learning to breathe to the right; after getting used to rotating properly to that side (I have a tendency to under-rotate anyway, so this was a good thing to get used to), I can swim more or less endlessly breathing to just one side or the other. The part that was killing me was breathing 33% fewer times over a given distance, which reduced the oxygen available, and increased the carbon dioxide I had to get rid of. At first I could barely swim one length of the pool before having to switch back to breathing every two strokes.

When I first began training myself to swim freestyle in 2013 (after completing a couple of triathlons using nothing but breast stroke), I found a program online called “Zero to 1650 in 6 Weeks” (a “swimmer’s mile” is 1650 yards, or roughly 1500 meters). It aims to take someone who can barely swim 100 yards to being able to swim that full mile, swimming just three times a week. I could only allocate 2 swims a week, so I spread it out over 9 weeks, but it worked a treat. I went from being able to barely swim 4 lengths of the pool, to handling a full 66-length mile in under 40 minutes. After struggling to add bilateral breathing to my regular workouts, I figured I’d go back to the 0-to-1650 well.

It worked fantastically, even fast than six weeks. After completing the 1000 yard week, I found I had solved the problem; it was just a matter of setting a reasonable pace, and not stopping. The next trick is going to be improving my speed. While one of my goals is completing an Ironman (which starts with a 2.4 mile swim), my preferred distance will always be sprint races, because you can bang them out in a morning and be home in time for brunch, and the training requirements are much more reasonable. The guys who are competitive at the sprint distance can swim a true half-mile in under 10 minutes; it takes me closer to 18. This is obviously somewhere I can improve a great deal. (The same of course goes for my cycling and running, but swimming is where I’m least comfortable).

Today I managed 1500 yards in a bit over 31 minutes. Next week I’ll probably work on some speed drills to see if I can keep breathing every three strokes will pushing hard with good form.

Yesterday’s activities: 30 chins, 30 pushups, about 3 minutes of planks throughout the day.
Today’s activities: 1500 yards swim, 30 chins, 30 pushups, about 2.5 minutes of planks.

What I eated yesterday: I polished off a leftover pesto pork chop for lunch, with vegetables; dinner was eggs, ham, turkey bacon, and a nice bed of spinach. I was trying to avoid carbs but couldn’t resist a few crescent rolls.
And today: Lunch was the last 1.5 pork chops, with some broccoli. For dinner, Sarah threw a big pork roast in the crock pot with apples and sweet potatoes, and there were green beans as well. (The kids also had mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, I couldn’t resist having a little of that as well.)

Today’s weight: 230 (-1)

The lifting of the heavy things

Back to the usual grind today; there’s still a ton of snow on the ground, so I won’t be doing any exercising outside, but I’m back in the office today so I can go for a stationary bike ride in the office gym. This is probably a good opportunity to test my heart rate on the stationary bike again, since it’s oddly very different than it is on my road bike.

Yesterday was a pretty decent day; I lost track of calories again, but stayed away from truly horrible foods, and since it was a weight training day I don’t feel too bad about getting some extra carbs in. We had a large pile of basil laying around (long story), so Monday night we had made a big pile of pesto with it, and yesterday I seasoned some pork chops, slathered the pesto on, and broiled them to medium. Delicious; doubly so with some extra pesto on top of roasted spaghetti squash. Other than that, I ate leftover baked chicken for lunch, a banana, probably a few too many pieces of bread and chips dipped into the pesto, and a bowl of cereal not long before bed. All in all a pretty low-fat, high protein, high carb day, which is perfect for after lifting weights. (I’ll explain why at some later date, I’m sure.)

The weight training program I’m following now is a low-volume version of the one I’ve been doing for the last few months (and having great success with): the GZCL method, invented by an amateur but very competitive powerlifter. It’s a good bit more volume than I had been doing in the past, but I think I’ve reached a point where in order for my old-ass muscles to actually grow, I have to hit them super-hard and eat a lot, which is what I did for about the last 3 months. Hopefully I added a bit of muscle along with the fat, and hopefully I can keep the muscle while I lose the fat.

Essentially the GZCL method has you program exercises in a variety of rep and weight ranges, taking advantage of the different responses your body has to different stimuli. For decades, a traditional “bodybuilding” split has involved high reps (8-12 reps in 2 or 3 sets) and medium weights, and a “strength” split has involved low reps (1-5 reps in 5+ sets) of high weights. I believe that a good routine will involve both: you increase your strength with high weight stuff, and then you exhaust the muscle with lower weights to stimulate hypertrophy. That’s what GZCL does: you do 10-15 total reps (broken up into small sets, obviously) at greater than 85% of your max (Tier 1), and then you do 20-30 reps at 65-85% of your max (Tier 2), and then you do 30+ total reps at below 65% of max (Tier 3). Tier 1 is one of the big compound movements (Bench press, squat, overhead press, deadlift); Tier 2 is one or two exercises that support the movement from Tier 1; Tier 3 is 2 or more exercises, also to support the Tier 1 movement. As originally programmed, you do one movements and the accessory tiers per day, training 4 days a week.

Something that I like to do is switch around accessory work from one area to another, as long as lower body stays with lower body and upper stays with upper. So on bench press day, I might do 5 sets of 3 reps at 85% of my max (that’s Tier 1), but then I might do overhead press, 4×8 at 65%, supersetted with chin-ups (the OHP Tier 2; I’ll do the bench Tier 2 on “OHP day”). Then I’ll do incline bench and rows, 4×12 or 3×15, using a weight that allows me to complete each set with 1 or 2 reps left in the tank.

The problem that I had is that, right now, I can only find time to lift twice a week. Luckily, I’m also a big fan of full-body training over any kind of split, so I would double things up: bench press, then deadlift, then OHP accessory, then some squatting, then some Tier 3 upper body stuff, and then a bunch of core work (usually leg raises and romanian deadlifts). The problems with this are 1) it’s super exhausting, and 2) it takes forever. My workouts were routinely over 90 minutes, sometimes even pushing two hours, and I had a lot of issues with nagging injuries because my form on some exercises got bad because I was so tired.

Since I’m cutting fat and not trying to add muscle for the next 5 months, it doesn’t make much sense for me to have all that extra volume. So what I’m doing for the foreseeable future is to keep doing 2 full-body workouts a week, but giving myself a hard time cutoff of one hour. If all I get into that hour is Tier 1 stuff, so be it. If I get through the Tier 1 stuff in 35 minutes and have some time, I’ll move on to Tier 2. I don’t see ever really getting to Tier 3, but I’ll also be doing bodyweight stuff every day of the week so I’m not crazy concerned. I’ll have done the bulk of the necessary stimulus to maintain muscle (as long as I get a ton of protein), and I won’t be overworking and risking injury. Yesterday was Bench and Deadlift, and I did only Tier 1. This didn’t bother me too much because I knew I’d also be getting in my 30 chins and pushups, plus some plank work, but my workout was barely over 50 minutes, including a 5 minute warmup. I’m sore today, but that’s mostly because I’d taken 2 weeks off from lifting because of illness.

Yesterday’s workout: Bench (5×3 @ 210lbs), Deadlift (5×3 @ 340lbs), 30 chins, 30 pushups, 60s plank
Today’s weight: 233 (+2 pounds, probably because I weighed myself in jeans, and yesterday was a carby workout day, which always leads to water retention)


It wouldn’t be a fitness program without setbacks; today’s snow is going to make it impossible to either run or bike, so it’ll be a good lifting session followed by…well, that’s about it. I had a little difficulty with diet last night; had a solid chicken dinner and then there were leftover Rice Krispy Treats and I found some fritos, and we made pesto for tonight’s dinner that turned out to be really good on leftover cheesy toast from a weekend party. All in all I was probably not far off 2000 calories for the day anyway, though I didn’t measure carefully as I should’ve, and I did get a good 1500 yards in the pool so that probably burned a few hundred calories. Simply not eating until 1pm does wonders for one’s caloric intake, of course.

About that pesto: turns out to be delightfully easy to make in a food processor. A panload of basil, some cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Hella yum, and aside from the little bit of oil and nuts, largely calorie-free flava. I’m looking forward to piling it on pork tonight and inhaling it.

Yesterday’s workout: 1500 yards freestyle swim in about 32 minutes, along with 30 chins and 30 pushups with my legs elevated. Didn’t do any plank work ’cause I’m a lazy git. Planned for today: deadlifts and bench presses. I’ll fill you in tomorrow on how that went, and whether I managed to not eat like a punk.

Back, and ready to bore you with everything I can possibly muster!

So here’s the good news: I’m back! For the foreseeable future, I intend fairly frequent updates to this jaun so that I can keep you all in stitches and possibly also change your life, brah.

Here’s the bad news: the basic underlying reason that my posts stopped is unchanged, namely, I’m insanely busy with a bunch of crap that’s not particularly interesting or funny. I think I promised some time back that this wouldn’t turn into a fitness blog (because nobody wants to read fitness blogs, even fitness bloggers), but in the interest of self-accountability…I’m turning this thing, at least for a while, into a fitness blog.

The reason for that is that I always seem to get tantalizing close to my goal, but then willpower comes into play and I don’t get there. My goal is not insignificant; I essentially want to look like this fine fellow:

Steve Reeves, sexy mofo

I’ve been saying for a few years that I want to have one summer where I wander around the pool in a ridiculously scant bathing suit with abs a-rippling, looking like Daniel Craig’s taller and infinitely prettier brother. And every year I fall short, usually because I set up conflicting step-goals and screw myself up (usually I try to “recompose” my body instead of just cutting fat, so I don’t lose any fat, and I don’t gain any muscle). So this year, all the goals I use to reach the primary goal will align:

  1. Straight fat-cutting all the way to the summer. No more of this cut for a bit, then get bored and decide to bulk for a while. I’m going to continue with intermittent fasting and cut way back on simple starches, and limit myself to 2000 calories a day. There will obviously be days I screw this up (my birthday’s a-comin’!), but if I manage to stick to it at *least* 5 days a week, and try to be a reasonably good boy on the weekends, I should do well.
  2. Train for an Ironman triathlon, even though I probably won’t complete one this year. The extra cardio burn will also reduce my bodyfat, obviously.

  3. Simple weight training program with reduced volume. Still probably more volume than I’ve used when cutting in the past, but definitely less than the hard hitting I was giving my body during the fall (during which I did appear to add noticeable muscle size).

  4. 30 chinups and 30 pushups, every single day (as well as some planks totalling somewhere between 60 and 120 seconds). I had started doing a program where you start with 10 on the first day, then add a rep for every day, but realized by the end of the two month program I’d have to find time to bang out 70 chins a day, and since I still can’t do more than about 10 per set, I don’t see how I could fit it all in. 30 or so reps a day is manageable in 4 or 5 sets, particularly as my weight drops a bit and I can add do more reps per set.

My plan is to keep this damn site updated just to keep my mind right, i.e., focused on my goals. This morning I weighed 231 pounds, which was surprisingly low; I would have thought with holiday bloat I’d be pushing closer to 240 or even more. Apparently a 24 hour vomit flu last week and poor appetite ever since has kept my weight down. I haven’t measured my bodyfat because I don’t honestly think there’s a particularly accurate way to do it, but plan to weigh myself frequently; my guess is that I will look pretty damned good at 210 pounds, which is lower than I’ve been since high school. If I get there and I’m not satisfied, I’ll try to go further, but 210 pounds by Memorial Day is the main goal. Memorial Day is early this year, May 25th, which is precisely 20 weeks from today, so I need to lose about a pound a week; more than manageable, even when I’m already pretty close to my goal.

If you’re interested in following this particularly nerdy fitness journey, that’s awesome, ’cause it’s about to get real.

Today’s weight: 231 pounds

Living side by side

I had an interesting (well, to me) thought the other day while driving through a somewhat poor neighborhood not far from my home. It seems to me that a lot of problems in this country are related to how widely separated the wealth classes are, and not just in monetary terms, but in geographical as well. If you live in a gated community, all your neighbors are wealthy, and your only knowledge of folks in poverty is reading the police reports in the local paper or seeing the shady characters who hang out on street corners on your way home from the opera, you are not going to think highly of the poor. You may come to think they’re all just lazy, that they could easily get themselves out of the ghetto if they really just put their minds to it, that they’re all just criminals who deserve to be mistreated by the police and imprisoned for long terms for petty offenses because they were probably guilty of something.

And if you grew up in a poor neighborhood, watched your mother kill herself with work to feed you and your brother because your dad left years ago, saw friends go to jail (or get murdered) for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and your only interaction with wealthy people is seeing them go on TV and call you a lazy bum or come into the Burger King where you work and treat you like crap, you might think them entitled pricks who deserve to pay outrageous taxes or even get robbed on the streets.

Obviously these are extreme positions. Rich people aren’t all entitled pricks, although a few of them are. Poor people aren’t lazy criminals, even though a few of them are. But they simply don’t interact enough in real life to see past the extremes that they read and see every day. I think we need to get these folks together, living side by side. This isn’t just theory, it really does work in practice, even on a small scale: I’ve known relatively well-off people who have purchased homes in awfully dangerous inner city communities, and they make friends with their poorer neighbors and everybody gets along quite nicely. I think we just need to see more of this.

How to do it? Well, there are a lot of ways. We could simply pass a law that says every McMansion has to have a rent-controlled apartment building next to it, and pass strict laws making sure that those apartments are taken up by truly low-income people instead of just rich folks looking to save a buck, although obviously having rich folks and poor folks living in the same building would be a pretty grand idea as well. Unfortunately we can’t really knock down the existing mansions and apartment buildings and rebuild them to align with our ideals.

The better option, I think, is to tie property taxes to the average value of homes in the community. A guy who buys a million-dollar house out in the country surrounded by other million-dollar houses, well, he pays a property tax rate based on that average million-dollar value. The guy who buys (or builds) a million-dollar house downtown surrounded by $150,000 row-homes, he pays a much lower amount of taxes. It’d have to be an awfully strong tax, of course; plenty of people would be willing to pay an increased tax rate to not live in an area they believe is dangerous. Also, property taxes are currently so low (I think in my area they should be at least doubled, with that extra money going straight to schools, libraries, and community centers) that it wouldn’t put much of a dent in any really wealthy person’s pocketbook. It might also be worth offering extra tax rebates based on a community’s average income, or the number of people in it who use government assistance. We’d also have to make sure that the large amounts of money collected on property taxes in wealthy areas got spent in the areas that had very little tax collected, which might be a challenge. It might also be worth offering special mortgage rates on homes purchased in poorer areas.

I think if we could just get people living near each other and participating in each other’s success, there really would be a rising tide to lift all boats. So tell me: why wouldn’t this work?

Latest Greatest Movie Reviews, Fall 2012ish

Waaaaaaaaaaay back last winter I did a set of reviews of films I had not actually seen, and in fact STILL have not seen, because I don’t have time to see movies in theaters, and when left to my own devices am much more likely to rewatch “Taken,” which is undoubtedly showing on FX as you read this, than see anything new. Because I enjoyed that a great deal, and because there are a lot of interesting new films coming out this fall, I give you Matt Hearn’s Fall 2012 Reviews of Films He Hasn’t Seen And Is Never Likely To! Which I think is a GREAT title.

  • Taken 2: The Takening. Apparently they’re already planning a third in the series, which I can only assume will be Taken 3-D: The Daughter Is Still Annoying As Hell. This is the best action movie of 2012 that doesn’t feature Daniel Craig. Even Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen (Famke: please eat a sandwich, you look like the natives tried to shrink your head) won’t be able to drag down Liam Neeson and his ability to ethnic cleanse entire tourist destinations.

  • Frankenweenie: Because every parent wants spend three months explaining to their 7-year-old why Fido can’t be brought back to life. Personally I think it might be better to just make him watch Pet Sematary and show him what really happens when pets return to life.

  • Pitch Perfect: On paper, it sounds solid. The director of Avenue Q, writers from 30 Rock, Anna Kendrick, and Brittany Snow to bring a little hotness. However, name one movie about a high school arts club (be it dance, music, cheerleading, whatever) that you’d give more than 2 stars to. Thinking…thinking…yeah no.

  • Looper: It’s got Bruce Willis in it. And . Other than that, it involves Time Travel, which is third behind “Nested Dreamstates” and “Part Or All Of the Plot Is Being Shown Backwards” for making movies completely impenetrable unless they feature a DeLorean. Spoiler alert: Apparently Bruce Willis is just JGL from the future, which is interesting because they look nothing alike. (Select the text to make the spoiler appear. If you want, or whatever.)

  • Solomon Kane: Apparently it was actually made in 2009, but is in limited release right now. I just wanted to share with you IMDB’s description of it:
    A 16th Century killing machine who finds his spirituality after an encounter with the Devil’s own Reaper embarks on a mission to take down the Overload, whose human Raiders are ravaging England.

    Somebody in Hollywood greenlit that. It has Max von Sydow in it.

  • End of Watch. It was written and directed by the guy who wrote Training Day, and who also directed Street Kings. I’ll say this for it: he’s found his lane. If you want to make a movie involving crooked cops, David Ayer is definitely your guy. Be warned, however: he might cast Keanu Reeves in it. Important note: this movie also has Anna Kendrick in it.

  • The Last House At The Left Side of The Street, Or Something Like That: I might have the name mixed up with when they released a similarly-named horror film three years ago. This movie has Jennifer Lawrence in it, so if you like her, uh, she’s in it. I think she kinda looks like a losing boxer.

  • Trouble With The Curve: This movie have a bit of trouble with the fact that America seemed surprised to see Clint Eastwood behave like a crazy old man at the Republican National Convention, despite the fact that he’s played nothing but crazy old men for years. Justin Timberlake’s in it, though, and honestly I’ve never not enjoyed him. He’s pretty.

  • Dredd 3D: a horrible remake of a horrible movie. Amusing fact: I saw that Lena Headey plays the villain, and immediately confused her with Lena Dunham, which gave me hope that the movie would have a nude scene or three since Lena Dunham will strip down for just about any reason (a good thing, IMHO, even if she’s not exactly centerfold material). Without nudity, however, I suspect Dredd 3D is just a pointless bloodbath. Not that I’m against bloodbaths, perse; I actually have one in my backyard.

  • The Master: Philip Seymour Hoffman is in this, so it’s either pretty good, or dreadfully overwrought. Joaquin Phoenix raps in it, I’m told. Side note: is there a more overwrought word than “overwrought?” I submit that there is not.

  • Sinister: I hadn’t heard of this before Sarah and I saw a commercial for it last night while watching “New Girl,” and I gotta say it looked scary as a mother. It’s also quite nice to see Ethan Hawke getting work, I wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t overdosed in 1995.

  • Seven Psychopaths: It has Christopher Walken in it. That is all you need to know. Fun IMDB comment:
    When Mickey Rourke left the production after a semi-high profile clash with McDonagh, Woody Harrelson replaced him, and the project suddenly seemed more legitimate — funny how Rourke’s credit rating has slipped again.

    Oh IMDB, you gossipy bitch! I love it!

  • Alex Cross: Tyler Perry takes over the iconic role that Morgan Freeman played brilliantly in “Kiss The Girls” and “Along Came A Spider.” Let me repeat that: this man is now playing a role originated by the man who played Red in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Morgan Freeman, rumors to the contrary, is not dead. I really feel like President Obama should probably have stepped in here.

  • Paranormal Activity 4. IMDB: “The plot is undisclosed at this time.” Well damn, I wonder what it could be about! The same crap as the first three? Hmmmmm.

  • Skyfall. Did you hear that? That was my boner. I haven’t seen a movie in the theatre since Quantum Solace (a minor disappointment). Might have to break the streak for this one.

So, what are you planning to see this fall?

Politics. No wait, politics suck, let’s talk about something else.

I kinda wanna talk politics, since we’ve reached the “Silly Season” part of the Presidential campaign where everything gets over-analyzed and beaten into the ground. Did Governor Romney give away the election by hitting the current Administration on the Libyan embassy attack? Did President Obama screw himself by allowing Vice-President Biden to talk at the convention? Did Gary Johnson blow up his campaign by…wait, who the hell is Gary Johnson? Didn’t he play for the Chargers? (Fun fact: Yes. Non-fun coincidence: he died on President Obama’s 49th birthday. If it’s not clear at this point that we’re talking about a different Gary Johnson than the current Libertarian Presidential candidate, then I don’t know what to tell you other than you might be an idiot and I can only assume you’re a big Mitt Romney supporter.)

Politics is depressing, though. We have a nearly unbridgeable gap between left and right in which each side is completely flabbergasted that the other side could say and believe the things they do. I’m not immune from this: I routinely read about people who honestly believe Mitt Romney will fix the economy (he won’t), and also believe that President Obama wants to take their guns away (he won’t) or is a Muslim (he’s not; I hew pretty closely to the theory that says he’s actually a closet atheist, and can’t admit it until his political career is over), or believe that “ObamaCare” should be called “ObamaTax” despite the fact that they don’t even know anyone who makes enough money that their taxes will be going up as a result of the ACA, aside from the penalty paid by those who don’t get health insurance as part of the individual mandate, something only put in place so that health insurance company lobbyists would allow their representatives in Congress to vote for the law.

That was a long sentence. Just like a potential Romney Administration. (Rim shot.)

I may come back to politics as we get closer to the election. Instead, I’ll give you an update on my current workout/diet regimen, which is going reasonably well.

While in Texas I ate relatively healthily, by which I mean I think I only had chicken fried steak one time, although I should admit the steak itself was most of a single cow. I only gained 3-4 pounds while we were gone, most of which was water weight that I lost in a few days after getting back to the program, and so I continued with my Leangains cut, and continued my RPT workouts. By mid-August, though, I was getting very frustrated with the strength loss I was seeing, and wanted to get back to eating a bit more, so I decided to switch to a “recomp”, and also add a bit more volume to my program.

I should explain what “recomp” is; it’s short for “recomposition,” and usually means eating approximately the same amount of calories as you burn. So if your body uses 2500 calories a day, you eat 2500 calories a day. The idea behind it is that you do that and lift heavy weights and get plenty of protein, and your body should theoretically shed a bit of fat, and your muscles should grow. The problem is that it’s very, very slow. The human body doesn’t just turn fat into muscle, despite what you may have read; it either loses bodyweight (because of caloric deficit, eating less than you use) or adds bodyweight (because of caloric surplus, eating more than you use). So eating the same amount of calories every day means your body uses those calories…and then has nothing to grow muscle with. On Leangains, however, you eat more on training day than on rest days, so after lifting weights your body uses extra calories to build muscle, and on the rest days your body is in a deficit and sheds fat. It’s still not as fast as the classic “bulk/cut” cycle, but it doesn’t require you to spend a few months getting fat while adding muscle, and then spend a few months cutting that fat back off. Also, folks with very low bodyfat tend to lose fat slowly anyway, and folks with a lot of barbell training under their belt add muscle slowly as well. So for folks who are already in good shape, it’s good enough. I’m not sure if I qualify for “in good shape” yet, but I did buy a pair of 34×34 jeans at Old Navy that fit nicely. I’m averaging about 228 pounds, which is the least I’ve weighed since freshman year of college, and I didn’t have near as much muscle at the time. I estimate my bodyfat at around 15% right now.

So I switched to the Leangains recomp protocol, and since I would be eating more and therefore theoretically be able to recover faster, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to a full-body workout. After poking around a bit I settled on “The Texas Method,” which is an intermediate lifting program involving a high volume workout on Monday, a light workout on Wednesday, and then a low-volume but heavy day on Friday. So for example, you might work with 80% of your max on Monday, but do 5 sets of 5 reps; on Wednesday, you work at 50-60% and do 2-3 sets of 5; on Friday, you try to set a 5-rep personal record. It works best when eating a big surplus, but by cutting the volume back to 3×5 on Monday and hoping for less frequent Friday maxes, I thought it might work on a recomp.

I lasted 4 workouts.

Part of the problem was that on the 2nd week, I decided to replace rows with power cleans, which would probably be a great idea if I was any good at power cleans or decided to start low. Instead I really wore myself out with 3×3 at 175lbs and the next day I strained my back bending over to fill my water bottle. Also, my ever-annoying right hip had started to flare up a bit, and I thought maybe the volume was going to be too much and trying to add 5 pounds to my maxes every week was wishful thinking without eating 4000 calories a day. It was time to try something else, so I looked into 5/3/1, a program by Jim Wendler. Now, for anyone who’s read my posts on Fitocracy over the past year or so, the fact that I’m doing 5/3/1 might come as a surprise given how many times I’ve told people not to do 5/3/1. In fact, I’ve never had anything against 5/3/1; I’d never done it, but from everything I’d read it seemed like a fantastic program if you are of a sufficient training level that periodization and slow monthly progression are necessary. The reason I was telling people not to do the program was because they were new lifters, and adding 5-10 pounds a month to their lifts was silly when they could do Starting Strength and add 5 pounds every workout.

However, knowing that RPT (which meant hitting the same weights every week and never being able to progress, even if I was pyramiding down from the max) wasn’t working, so periodization (working at different percentages each week) seemed like a great idea; and realizing that unless I was willing to eat like a pig I probably couldn’t add weight every week like the true intermediate lifter I am, 5/3/1 seemed like a nice option. It also features frequent “deload” weeks to give my poor old man muscles a chance to recover.

(WARNING: things are about to get lifter-nerdy up in this.)
The gist of 5/3/1 is that you do a 4-week cycle: first week, you warm up and do 3 ramped sets of 5, topping out at about 85% of your “training max” (more on this in a moment); second week, you warm up and then do 3 ramped sets of three, getting to 90%; and then in week three you warmup and do a set of 5@85%, 3@90%, and then 1@95% of your training max. The fun part is that the 3rd set each week, the prescribed reps is only a minimum: you actually do as many as you possibly can. So on week one you might actually do 11 reps at 85% of your max, and in week three you might be able to do 5 or 6. I’m in the middle of week 1, and I hit 11 reps of my top squat set on Monday, and 9 each on deadlift and overhead press yesterday.

In week 4, you deload, just basically doing warmups and allowing your body to recover from the 3 week pounding you just gave it. Then you repeat the cycle, pretty much forever if you want.

The real genius of the program is the use of the “training max,” which is not the same thing as your true max. In fact, if you know your true one-rep-max (1RM) Wendler prescribes setting your training max to 90% of it. If you don’t know your one-rep-max, he has you estimate it from your 5RM or whatever rep max you happen to know. The reasons that you set your weekly percentages from this hypothetical training max instead of your true max are, in no particular order:

  1. Most guys don’t know their true current max.
    “I do a seminar basically every week,” Wendler says, his voice rising. “Every time, without fail, when I ask someone what their one-rep max is, I get this: ‘Wellll, about three years ago I hit 365 for a triple, but that was when I was training heavier …’ Most guys just don’t have a f***ing clue.
    “By using the 90%, I account for this bulls***. By using weights they can actually handle, guys are building muscle, avoiding burnout, and most importantly, making progress every workout.”

  2. If you step backwards a bit, you allow yourself to build momentum forward such that after a few months your training max actually exceeds your previous max, and a few months after that, you’re doing multiple reps in week 3 of a cycle with what had once been a theoretical 1RM.

  3. As Jim says, “You don’t need to operate at your max to increase your max.” Since the top set has only a minimum prescribed number of reps, you can achieve muscle exhaustion with high reps that will trigger muscle growth, and follow up in the heavier weeks with lower reps that continue to stimulate growth.

Every cycle, you add 10 pounds to the training max of your deadlift and squat, and 5 pounds to the presses. You could even increment even more slowly, something I might explore if I find I have to reset too frequently. A reset is triggered by not being able to get all the prescribed minimum reps for an exercise, and so in the next cycle you knock 10% off the training max and work your way back up.

Normally, 5/3/1 is a 4-day training program, with overhead press, deadlift, bench press, and squat all done on separate days with various assistance exercises that are left pretty much up to the trainee. I’m doing Wendler’s “beginner” modification, which is a 3 day “full-body” variation in which on Monday I squat heavy, then bench press very light, and do some assistance (rows or leg raises); Wednesday I deadlift heavy and overhead press heavy, followed by some chins; and Friday I’ll squat light, bench heavy, and then probably do some inverted bodyweight rows. I have a good amount of muscle soreness from the workouts, but no joint pain so far, and my back’s holding up fine. I’ve considered doing the regular 4-day program but honestly can’t rely on being able to get 4 lunch hours a week devoted to training. My hope is that over the fall/winter/spring I knock out 9-10 cycles of 5/3/1, add 7-8 pounds of muscle, and cut off enough fat so that my super-fly abs start popping like a toaster strudel. I’ll keep y’all updated since I’m sure you’re on pins and needles about the whole thing.

Texas, Part D

Sorry for the delay, but jaun’s been cray. Poetry, people. Make it happen in your life, today!

On Wednesday, we piled into the car with Grandma and headed to Glen Rose, Texas, to see Dinosaur Valley State Park, where they have some neat exhibits and several areas where you can go and look at petrified dinosaur footprints in small creek beds. Interesting and sad fact: the footprints are gently being eroded away by the same freeze/thaw cycle that tears up roadbeds and driveways, and will be pretty much gone in a matter of decades. They survived as long as they have by being covered by mud and silt, which gets washed away, exposing the soft limestone footprints to the elements.

After that we got great food at the Storiebook Cafe in “downtown” Glen Rose. They sell gourmet sandwiches and chips, along with used books and knick-knacks, and even have a small playroom chock full of toys for the children. I bought a book on Fermat’s Last Theorem, and nerded out on that a bit. Afterwards we returned to Waco, and Grandpa and Papaw and I hit a few hardware stores in search of a trap large enough to capture a squirrel, since they keep eating all of Grandpa’s birdfeed and he hates them.

For dinner, the whole Furrer clan (Sarah’s mom’s family) descended on the house for fajitas, and then we went down to Uncle Mike and Aunt Donna’s to look at their various animals, and got some nice fresh eggs for breakfast.
On Thursday we started our voyage home; spent the morning packing up the car, and didn’t end up getting on the road until close to 11:30. Having learned from our voyage down, I packed stuff in the roof carrier that we wouldn’t really need in hotel rooms, which made nightly stops easier. We also made sure to take plenty of long stops to stretch our legs and tire out the various and sundry children.

I hoped to make Little Rock, but didn’t want to go near Dallas, so we stuck to small roads, which mostly had 70mph speed limits but had to slow down occasionally for tiny towns. We made it into Arkansas by early evening and decided we’d had enough, so we stopped in Hope, the birthplace of one William Jefferson Clinton. I was very sad to discover that Hope is in a dry county, but managed to eat horrible Pizza Hut food while William yelled at us, and went back to sleep in a hotel room that smelt strongly of mildew. The next day could only be better, I figured.

On Friday we managed to get up and out super early, well before 7, and put a hundred miles behind us before stopping for gas and McDonalds breakfast. Rolled on through Little Rock and Memphis, and then stopped at a pretty shady truck stop (literally just a grassy place to park and a horribly foul bush that had been peed on by every long hauler in America, I suspect) to change William. In the early afternoon we arrived in Nashville, where we stopped at a Ted’s Montana Grill for steaks and mashed taters. We wanted to tire the kids a bit, so we found a McDonalds with a horrible, germ-filled play area, and got some coffee. Poor timing meant that we left Nashville during Friday afternoon rush hour, but that cleared pretty quickly and we finally stopped for the night just west of Knoxville.

On Saturday we were a little late going, but still put a few dozen miles behind us before stopping for breakfast. We continued up 81, finally heading east on 64 towards Richmond, but had to stop in Charlottesville to pee and get more fuel. We arrived in Richmond in the early evening and spent a nice night with Kyle and Kristy and their daughters, and got on the road Sunday afternoon for the last leg home. After doing almost all the driving up to that point, I stepped aside and let Sarah take the wheel, which was wise because we immediately hit horrible traffic precipitated by a bad accident around Fredericksburg, VA. We made it home around 7pm and managed to get the car unloaded and cleaned out before crashing hard.

Texas and back is a long way to drive, is all I’m saying.

Gone to Texas, part Deux

If you missed the first part (how could you let that happen?), it is to be found here.

Thursday was sight-seeing day with the older 2/3 of my various and sundry children. We went into town to go to Fort Mason and look it over, and ran into a nice gentleman who was working on some renovations and exhibits, and who told us a bit about it. He expressed surprise that we’d driven all the way from Delaware, and then realized that they didn’t have any Delawareans in the visitor book and became very excited to have checked that item off his bucket list. After that, we drove into the town square and visited a small museum that containing a large Kettner family tree in it, including mention of yours truly. After that we headed down to a larger museum in the old town grammar school, where we were immediately accosted by an elderly gentleman who had apparently been waiting for just this moment for decades. I think he actually brushed cobwebs off himself as he stood. I was able to use the excuse of corralling the children to escape him, but poor Sarah was trapped listening to his spiel for well over 20 minutes, long after the kids and I had gone outside to run around and burn off some energy. (There was a small playground with a large walking track, at least 1/8 of a mile, and I told Charles I’d time him running it, which was a stroke of genius.)

We had lunch at a small burger place in town and then headed back to the ranch to relax for a bit. The afternoon we spent swimming at Fred and Joan’s, and then they fed us fajitas and beer. Pretty fantastic way to spend an evening.

Sarah’s cousins Deborah and Jill, who had been in town with their kids to visit with us, needed to head back to their homes in West Texas and New Mexico, but they stopped by on Friday morning to say goodbye. After that Sarah and her mom went into town for a bit of knick-knack shopping, after which we did some more swimming and napping. That evening, Grandpa and Charles and I drove down to the Eckert James River Bat Cave to watch the millions of bats emerge and fly off into the evening sky; there are pictures below, and a totally choice video that’s kinda Zapruder-esque:

The bats emerge every evening, somewhere around sundown, from roughly May to September (when they migrate to their winter residences south of the border). If I recall correctly there are between 2 and 8 million of them, depending on time of year; the site is essentially a “maternity ward,” full of pregnant females and their pups. As the evening wears on, you start to see “scouts” come out, lone bats that appear to judge the conditions (temperature, sunlight, availability of bugs), and they’ll fly back to apparently report to the others. After a few minutes the entire roost will emerge in one long tornado stream. The vortex of the spinning stream of bats sucks air out of the cave, and along with it an unbelievable ammonia smell from the guano, which coats the floor of the cave to a depth of several inches.

On Saturday we arose fairly early to head to Fredericksburg, a nearby town that is the historic center of the large German migration to Texas in the 19th century. Sarah’s dad edited a book of his ancestor’s letters home to Germany, and he gave a short talk to some interested history nerds in the Vereins Kirche, the original town church, now a museum. After that we walked the streets of Fredericksburg a bit, and went to a spectacular Mexican restaurant named Hilda’s.

Josephine fell asleep in the car on the way back to Mason, and she was in dire need of the nap, so I dropped off the rest of the family and drove around Mason County a bit to snap some pictures, below. After that, we spent the afternoon packing and preparing to drive to Waco the next day. I did get an opportunity to fire Grandpa’s hunting rifle, and I continue to be a good shot. I’ve decided I need a hunting rifle and an opportunity to use it. We had chicken fried steak at the Walnut Creek Cafe in town, and then I had a brief chance to go wander around with my .22 rifle and hunt jackrabbits, but saw nothing but deer.

We didn’t get on the road the next day until close to noon, but did so and headed roughly northeast towards Waco. The sky grew ominous, and sure enough, after we stopped for gas and snacks, opened up with a torrential downpour that actually had us turning the blinkers on and driving about 25mph on a 70mph roadway. I couldn’t see more than 25 feet in front of me. Eventually I noticed that the sky to the north seemed lighter, so I turned off in that direction and waited for the GPS to catch up. It took us a little while to wend our way around the north side of Waco but we eventually arrived at Mamaw and Papaw’s at around 3:30pm.

We spent the rest of the evening visiting with the family, but I really want to share the recipe for a blackberry buckle that Sarah’s Aunt Donna made that consists of three ingredients:
Vanilla Cake Mix (one box)
Frozen blackberries (2 bags)
Sprite (one can)
Stir it together in a baking dish and throw it in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes and then wonder why nobody ever thought of it before.

On Monday, we needed to get the crazy out of Charles and Josephine, so we decided to wander into downtown Waco and see the sights. First we stopped by Baylor University to see the bear enclosure, but the only bear was asleep inside her den and barely (bearly?) visible. We wandered through the Baylor bookstore but decided the only way we’d spend $35 on a ballcap was if we were Baylor Alumni, wealthy, and drunk.

After that we decided to go to the Cameron Park Zoo, which I highly recommend. As members of the Brandywine Zoo, they let us in free, and when we went to buy some hot dogs from a vendor towards closing time, she gave them to us for free because otherwise they’d just throw them out. We got to see a bunch of extremely awesome animals (including lions, gibbons, tigers, and elephants), and had a nice snack, for the price of two ice cream sandwiches.

On Tuesday we visited with some church friends of Mamaw and Papaw, and then we took Josephine and Charles to the Mayborn Museum on the Baylor campus, which is a great hands-on experience for kids. Lots of buttons to push, dials to spin, things to draw on, trains to operate, cars to drive, etc. It’s like the Delaware Children’s Museum, except cheaper and bigger (obviously the University helps subsidize some of the cost, and I suspect they have a substantial endowment that the DCM can’t hope to have). After that, we had dinner at a “Catfish King,” a cafeteria-style seafood joint, where I ate enough seafood to make my burps taste like mercury.

Next time: a few more days in Waco, and the trip back to La Casa.