Still Alive…and Thriving

I’ve been meaning to write up a new post for so long, not because I feel the need to express myself on the topic of low-carb, LCHF, Paleo, or fitness anymore, but because I just went to update this site and saw that my last posts were mainly negative in terms of progress, and I didn’t want to give readers the impression that I had given up or that this wacky diet of mine doesn’t work : )

As you may have seen over the past year or so, there has been more and more research supporting lowered carbohydrate intake for health and weight loss. It seems that the message is finally out. When I started this “journey” five years ago, and particularly when I started writing this blog, I made a couple of mistakes. One of which was the tone I used in the writing. One reader wrote me to tell me to “quit mansplaining!” When I saw that I was quite ashamed and embarrassed, as I did not intend to come off as a know-it-all. But I did, so forgive my tone in many of the early posts. But, in my defense, think back just a few years ago and we were still faced with the following myths being considered conventional wisdom:

  • Butter is bad for you
  • Salt is bad for you
  • You have to drink 8+ glasses of water per day
  • Low carb diets or too much protein cause liver problems

Since that time, saturated fat has been the topic of hot debate as to whether it is healthy or not, with the research being pretty clear that it is health, or at least not unhealthy. The vegans/vegetarians are slowly losing their grip on the diet and fitness policies (yes, even fitness – they have successfully boondoggled most of America into thinking that slowly jogging around a track for X minutes a day is the ideal fitness routine….why? Because it requires no protein.). Anyways, you know where I stand on it.

Over these five years I spent the first two or three arguing with people who would, as I felt at the time, “have the gall” to question my diet when I clearly was losing weight and getting into the best health and shape of my life. Couldn’t they see/feel what I did? Hence my tone in those posts. After the first few years I stopped debating with people about diet completely. Not worth the time or frustration. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that debating diet and fitness with currently obese and/or unfit individuals is like debating the importance of going clean to a drug addict. They’ll argue you tooth and nail over it. With regards to diet and fitness, I’ve specifically found that overweight men over the age of 30 will insist they know what they’re talking about when it comes to diet and fitness. They will argue until they run out of breath (and they often do) that their approach is the best. Of course, they’re not actually following “their” approach but they apparently think about it. Nowadays, I simply avoid the subject. If I am really annoyed and don’t care for the person, then I’ll just look them up and down slowly and then reply, “How’s that diet working out for you?” Enough said.

My Current Status

Simply, I’m doing really well. I struggled for a long time with fitness – trying to dial in the right fitness program for me has been a constant and evolving struggle and will continue to be tweaked, but over the past year or so I’ve found what works and what doesn’t for me. More importantly, my weight is just about perfect. I am at 189lbs, which sounds a bit high to a lanky jogger type but I was blessed with a muscular, athletic build (large thighs, v-shaped upper body). Hypertrophy training (i.e., “bodybuilding”) is now my primary “workout” though I do sports as well, such as squash a couple of times per week, some basketball, and soon some soccer. I’m in the best shape of my life. And guess what? I eat a lot of carbs these days. My typical routine is to eat < 100g of carbs during the weekdays. Often less than that. One night per week, although I don’t plan on it, if I feel I need more carbs to fuel a more intensive workout, then I’ll indulge in something sweet or starchy. The weekends? I eat very low-carb during the day and pretty much whatever I want at night. Keep in mind that I don’t ever want bread or pasta, though I would give it a go if I desired it. But I enjoy beer and fried foods often on weekends. I’m able to do this now because I feel my body is working properly, and the weightlifting and squash really allow for this.

I’ll be turning 44 in a week. I started this way of eating back when I was 39. I somehow have been able to not only keep the ~80lbs off but continue to get in better shape. Not sure how I’ve accomplished it but I have. And I have learned a number of things through continual self-experimentation. Some quick thoughts:

  • Hypertrophy training is best for me. The “lift heavy” thing didn’t result in worthwhile change to me. What does “worthwhile” mean to me? Not adding more plates to the bar. It’s like when I talked about my now disdain for crossfit in an earlier post – I didn’t join a CrossFit box to increase my “Fran” time. I did it to lose weight and get in better shape. Neither happened as a result. So while I certainly do not regret doing CrossFit for 6 months, or my 2 years doing a heavy lifting (i.e., Starting Strength and/or StrongLifts) type routine, the bottom line is that after doing those protocols for long enough they did not result in worthwhile, positive change for me. Going to a 8-12 rep, higher-volume weight routine, coupled with some HIIT (in the form of squash primarily) has been the key for me.
  • I no longer buy into the bullshit that carbs are completely unnecessary. This is simply not the case for me. When I was obese and needed to lose weight, cutting out all carbs from non-vegetable sources was absolutely the best way to go. But once I lost the bulk of the excess weight and turned my attention to fitness goals, I unfortunately found out the hard way that our bodies were simply not meant to lift heavy things or run around at fast paces for extended periods of time without the extra fuel that carbohydrates provide. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT LOW CARB IS BAD. What I am saying is that, for me, low carb is the ideal weight loss approach. It is not the ideal diet for an athlete. If you are overweight, then I suggest you ditch your athletic goals and go on a very low carb diet until you lose the excess weight, then scale up your carb intake to fuel your athletic goals. There I go mansplaining again : ( …. but really, that’s what’s worked for me. And I learned this stuff the hard way. Believe me, I spent a year trying to do heavy lifting on low carb. Didn’t work.

So that’s it for now and probably for a while. I just wanted to give a quick update on my status. I’m alive, well, and thriving. I wish you all the same.

Bodybuilding vs Starting Strength or Stronglifts

So I imagine the title of this post may cause some uproar from many in the Paleo/Primal community, but I don’t care.

If you look through the archives of this blog, you’ll see numerous posts from me regarding my attempts at following a 5×5 strength program, such as Starting Strength or Stronglifts. In the end, although I put on a positive attitude during them, they never really worked for me. Before I give the wrong impression, let me make it clear that I am certain these are great programs. I spent a number of months working these programs off and on over the past couple of years. If your goal is pure strength, as measured by the amount of weight you can lift, then by all means, these are probably the way to go.

But me? I’m apparently too vain for that. Or I have a unique body that just didn’t respond well to those programs.

Success?

Did I see success while following these programs? Yes and no. It depends on how you measure success. If you measure it Crossfit-style, where success equals increases in analytics (i.e., numbers on a whiteboard), then yes – I went from a 110lb back squat to a 215lb back squat in just a couple of months. But apparently I’m weird, as I don’t give a shit what a whiteboard says or how many plates I’m pulling or pushing. All I care about is how my workouts impact the following:

  1. My overall health, as determined by how I feel (tired, energized, lazy, etc.)
  2. My body – am I looking better or not?

I’m sorry to say that I’ve given up on pure strength routines. I made the stupid assumption, and bought into the hype, that increasing raw strength would magically equate to success as determined by my criteria above. But the reality is that I didn’t feel all that great while doing these programs, and aside from some *very* slight improvement in my physique that was barely noticeable after a few months of doing Starting Strength, I didn’t see any benefit.

Bodybuilding

Not sure if I’m using the terms correctly or not, but about 5 weeks ago I decided to try a more traditional bodybuilding routine. By “bodybuilding” I’m talking about adding in isolation exercises like bicep curls, tricep pressdowns, etc. These types of movements are universally bashed by the Paleo crowd. In addition, I lowered the weight and increased the reps. This is the key thing, I think. I’m still lifting heavy, but not killing myself by adding weight every single workout as prescribed by the 5×5 programs. The routine I’ve followed over the past 5 weeks, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, looks like this:

  1. Warm-up cardio for 7 or 8 minutes, typically on an elliptical machine
  2. Mobility – a series of stretches on my hamstrings, calves, quads, followed by foam-rolling to further loosen my calves and then focus on thoracic extension
  3. Goblet Squat 3×12 – using a heavy kettlebell; sometimes I’ll do barbell squats but I’m finding the goblet works better for me
  4. Dumbbell Rows 3×12
  5. Barbell Chest Press 3×10 – for the first 4 weeks I used dumbbells but just switched to barbell
  6. Standing Dumbbell Press 3×10
  7. Dumbbell Bicep Curls 3×10
  8. Dips 3×12 – on a bench, straight-legged
  9. Tricep Pressdowns 2×10 (typically with the rope)
  10. Weighted Eccentric Heel Drops 2×15 (I do these as a healing protocol for my chronic insertional achilles tendonosis)
  11. Plank

I’ve found this routine is working way better than the 5×5 routines I was doing on the other programs. In the 5 weeks I’ve been doing the above routine, I have dropped a couple of inches off of my waist, and have seen very noticeable increases in my muscle definition around my lats, back, shoulders, chest, and arms. With the 5×5-like programs I didn’t see any definition except slight increase in quad definition. Not to mention my appetite increased substantially, I believe due to always shooting for a *very* heavy weight with each workout. But, again, I’m still lifting heavy. But I’m shooting for 80% of my max for the last set of 12 (usually falling short of reaching 12 on that last set), versus 90-100% max like before.

Perhaps most importantly – I’m actually enjoying this program. And I have no doubt that that is adding to my success with it. When I did the other routines, I hated them. Never enjoyed them. After each workout I felt spent and not energized. With this routine I’m feeling great. While I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy lifting weights or working out, I enjoy this program. And it’s nice to finally be able to see some muscle increase in my arms : )

So, the next time you’re on the marksdailyapple.com Fitness Forum or listening to a Paleo podcast and all you hear is snarky comments about the guys in the gym doing bicep curls, feel free to think of me. On paper, a 5×5-like program that focused exclusively on compound movements for very heavy weight should work to bring the smaller muscles along too. But for me they didn’t.

New Weightlifting Routine

A few weeks ago I got the green light from my physical therapist and sports medicine doctor to resume full physical activity. If you’ve been following my posts, you’re aware of my 5 month fight with insertional achilles tendonosis. Basically, I had (may still have) a very small ‘hole’ in my achilles tendon, right at the insertion point. This happened the first week in January and for close to a month I could barely walk without a lot of pain. After x-ray, failed physical therapy (most PT’s (and especially runners) think all achilles issues are the same and must be treated the same – with heavy duty stretching and eccentric heel raises….they’re correct to a point, but for insertional you must not go below parallel with the ‘dip’ part of the heel raises until it’s mostly healed!), and plain old rest, I finally found a great sports doctor and he referred me to an awesome physical therapist who got me going. I’m now happy to report that I am pain free and have been for a while now.

Regardless, from January through May I tried to be active as I could but the one thing I stopped doing was the Starting Strength routine that I was doing leading up to the injury. A couple of weeks ago I started back on a different program, and so far the results have been great and I am progressing well:

Warm-Up

  • 5 minute warm-up (usually either on an elliptical, or lately skipping altogether because the foam rolling and stretching warms me up)
  • Stretching – primarily hamstring/gastroc stretch and some others
  • Foam Rolling – I started doing this last week and, as painful as it is at first, it is *awesome* and has made my squats much better

Routine

  • Barbell Squats
    • Same old barbell squats but I don’t count sets – I basically keep track of my max (the amount of weight I can squat for 3 reps) and work up to it. I typically start with a bar + 20 pounds on it, do 5 reps, then jump to 50 pounds for 5, then 75, etc. My current max is 190 lbs. All in all, I probably do between 6 and 8 sets, each for either 3 reps (if it’s heavy) or the goal of 5 reps. I am certain I could lift quite a bit more for a 1RM but my flexibility is still an issue in my shoulders, and so ‘bailing out’ is something I am not comfortable doing and my gym is not exactly the type of place where I can practice that without raising eyebrows. But that’s something I’m going to work on next.
  • Dumbbell Chest Press
    • I had surgery in my hand when I was in my late teens – a metal pin was inserted into the back of my hand, at a hospital in Hong Kong by a Harvard trained surgeon (long story as to how I wound up in that position…). Because of that, barbell chest presses never quite felt right. The angle of the bar in relation to my wrist has always been an issue – one wrist felt weaker. So I switched to dumbbells for it and am *loving* them. I start out at 35lb bells and then move up 5 pounds each set. My current max is 50, but yesterday I’m doing 7 or 8 reps with those pretty easily so it’s time to jump up again. So glad I switched to dumbbells. I struggled with the bar and was always held back by my wrist.
  • Pullups
    • I would rather do chin-ups but there is only one true chin-up bar at my gym – the rest are pull-up bars attached to weight machines (so they’re not ‘bars’ but just grips to jump up and grab onto with each hand). I can do 3 or 4 unassisted pull-ups max (and then have to rest for quite a bit), but have been doing 3 sets of 5 assisted pull-ups.
  • Deadlift
    • Once per week I also have added the deadlift. But it’s only if the opportunity arises, because there usually isn’t a proper or socially acceptable space to do them at my gym’s weight room. When I do do them I start at about 100 lbs for 3 reps, then jump up to 160 or so, etc., to my max. Currently it’s 225 but I should be able to get back to my SS max, which was around 260, pretty quickly, particularly if I stop dicking around and treat this as a prime lift. I treat this as a ‘nice but not necessary’ lift right now, as by the time I get to it I’m pretty spent from all the squats that have had time to sore up my legs, but I know the deadlift is just as important and soon I hope to focus on it more.
  • Tricep pulldowns
    • I know what you’re likely thinking. I did too. This isn’t a compound movement and, as a dreaded ‘isolation’ exercise, it is inefficient. I think it probably is, but at the same time the LeanGains.com guy recommended it and it does seem to finish off the full body routine nicely.

I am going to keep with this routine for a couple of more weeks and then, if I continue to progress and am up to it, then I want to start mixing in and focusing on a single oly lift at the end for fun, with a focus on form – power cleans, push presses, snatch, etc.

Foam Rolling

I mentioned earlier that foam rolling is awesome. I urge you to try it if you have flexibility issues. Caution: it is painful. It can be really painful the first few times you do it. For me, my quadriceps are really tender. The first two times I tried it I used the standard black/gray high-density 36″ foam roller that is common. I could tolerate it fine everywhere but my quads and my lats. So I returned it after two tries and ordered what I thought was a slightly softer version (shown in the image below – note, I bought the green textured one), but I immediately regretted it:

The thing is, the first couple of times I foam rolled it was really hurting, but then my body got the ‘kinks worked out’ I guess everywhere but my quads. So for my quads, this new green roller is great. But everywhere else it is too soft. I’ll likely go back to buying one of the true high density ones, like this one:

What I’m Up To (and Insertional Achilles Tendinosis)

Been a while since I posted. I’ve got good news and bad news to report.

The Bad News

Back in the Fall I received a curious email from a post on Sportsvite. Sportsvite is a place where you can find sport teams to join, and teams can look for players. Most of the teams are former or current college athletes who are looking for athletes of similar skill level, be it soccer, basketball, baseball, etc. I signed up a year or two ago and forgot about it. Every few months I’d get an email from someone begging me to be on their hockey team or softball team, and when I’d respond with “I’m in my 40’s and have never played that sport competitively, but I’m in decent shape given my age and will hustle”, I’d always get the same response back, “No thanks. We’re looking for experienced athletes.” Amazing how their original tone of desperation changes so quickly.

Eventually I got an email asking me if I’d be interested in playing soccer. The first time I ignored it. A few months later I got a similar email from the same person. This time I responded stating that I’d never played but would love to. To my surprise, I was told to show up at a regional soccer training center and be ready to play. No experience necessary. I show up and the place is fabulous, and next thing I know I’m on a high-quality turf field with a bunch of 25 year olds. My team sucked and we never won. The other teams were filled with former college soccer players. Regardless, I loved it. So much so that when the season ended I made an inquiry with the center asking them if they have a league for older players. Sure enough, they have a “Men’s Over 35” league. Perfect! So I sign up for the ‘house team’. We suck, but it’s a good group of guys. Problem is, I was only able to play twice before having to temporarily retire…(more on that in a moment).

In the Over 35 league I was one of the faster players. Skill-wise I was average, on my team (again, since this was the ‘house’ team we’re not talking all stars here – anyone who is good eventually gets scooped up by an established team). Anyone who knows me or has read my posts regarding Crossfit, knows I have too much ambition and competitiveness for my own good. So I decide one day that, in addition to the Starting Strength program I was doing, I would kick up the cardio big-time to help my soccer game. So, after doing that day’s Starting Strength routine (heavy barbell back squats, some presses, and power cleans), I jump on a treadmill and ramp up the incline. That day I forgot my normal ‘running shoes’ (a pair of minimalist but still pretty well padded sneakers). A couple of minutes into the jog I feel a slight pain building in the back of my right ankle/heel. Like an idiot I keep jogging. About 8 minutes in I know it’s getting worse and worse and is not normal, so I stop. That night it got worse. And for the next 2 weeks it didn’t get any better at all. I start looking around on the internet to figure out what it could be. Basically, my achilles was sore as hell. Especially in the morning but pretty much all day. The only time, during that 2 weeks, where it didn’t hurt was when I played a soccer match (bad idea), because I stretched the living shit out of my legs/ankles before playing. Looking on the internet the prognosis was sketchy. Basically, stretch and stretch and hope to hell it goes away. Eccentric stretches/strengthening, etc. I decide this is too important to screw around with and I go see a sports foot/ankle specialist. He x-rays it on the spot and then tells me I have insertional achilles tendinosis, and says it’ll probably be fine in a few weeks but if not call him and we’ll try physical therapy.

A week later and it’s no better. I am concerned and call and tell him let’s not wait – let’s get the ball rolling on the physical therapy. He agrees and so I started that a week ago today, going twice per week. Every day since then I’ve been doing a serious mobility routine, which I’ll share in a separate post. Honestly – after a week of it I’m thrilled in that my squat depth and mobility overall have improved immensely. But my achilles is still sore when I first wake up in the morning, or after sitting for a little while and then standing. It’s not pain – it’s a soreness, and it goes away after a few minutes.

So What’s the Good News?

The good news is that the physical therapist did quite a bit of diagnostics on me and told me what I have been told by numerous specialists/coaches already: I just may be the most inflexible dude on the planet, and it’s holding me back physically. I told him I’d been doing a lot of barbell squats, etc., and after struggling for close to a year now in trying to get my squat depth below parallel (or even parallel comfortably) he is now working with me to fix it. And a week later my squat depth is drastically improved. Last summer, when starting Crossfit, I did 50+ squats per day (usually more) for 60 days just to try to get it right. I saw some improvement at first but then nothing. A week of these wacky stretches he’s got me doing and I am not way better than ever and am optimistic.

During today’s PT session I made it clear to him that I’m getting very worried that this achilles problem is not going away or getting better. I *love* the stretches and am back to working out hard (no running, which is fine with me) so it’s no longer holding me back from anything aside from soccer. He assures me that it will go away but will take time – likely a few months. That sucks. I was originally told that this was a “couple of weeks” injury. He didn’t make me feel any better when he said I’m one of the lucky ones and that my injury isn’t anywhere near as severe as most who have it. I guess I should be happy about that.

That’s all for today. I have a few post ideas and will write more this week. Been a while.

Some miscellaneous stuff

Had some emails asking me about my weight. Honestly, I think they’re from angry vegans who hate this low carb/pro dietary fat approach and want to “expose it” as some kind of fraud. I’m happy to report that I’m holding steady at 189lbs. It fluctuates of course, but always within 5lbs. I took about 5 weeks off from any exercising due to the achilles problem and my weight didn’t budge, but I lost a lot of muscle tone. And I just felt like garbage. That’s the main reason I work out – to feel better. It certainly doesn’t do anything positive for me in terms of my diet and, in fact, makes my eating tricky. I have to make sure I have the fuel needed without overdoing it. And when you exercise hard you get hungrier – your body wants to compensate. I’m working to get that back now.

How is Starting Strength Going?

Let me say this: Starting Strength is great. And if I can get my mobility/squat depth right, I’ll be doing those lifts again. But I now have to spend roughly 40 minutes on just the physical therapy stretches/movements daily (I’m supposed to do them 3x per day!) that I’ve decided to take a break from SS for now. Twice a week, starting today, I’m going to do a full-body kettlebell routine. For once, I’m going to pick something for which my body type is seemingly perfect for – swinging kettlebells.

My PRs on SS are presently at:

Back Squat: 205lbs x 3 (I could go heavier but I have no spotter,and when you can’t get to parallel in your squat it’s downright not good to have that much weight on your back)

Deadlift: 255lbs. I am certain I could get to 300 quickly but, believe it or not, there just aren’t enough weights at my gym! At least not all in one place. But, no excuses, I need to man up and setup in the main weight room area. It’s full of machines and so people will get annoyed with me for taking up a big space by deadlifting, but oh well.

Power Clean: 135lbs – but my form was off. I’ve since reset my form (after watching more video tutorials about it) and have been going at around 100lbs with perfect form.

Like I said, I’m going to take a break from a strict SS program for a while.

How’s Your Cholesterol/Lipid Test Results Nowadays?

I’ve had some emails from readers who came to this site by way of one of its more popular posts – my lipid test results from a while back. Everyone wants to know: how are your lipid test results after doing low-carb long-term?

I haven’t had them tested since late last year, but they were similar from the original post except one thing: my HDL went up, which is fabulous. I’m now in the 70s. I meant to post the complete results at the time but forgot. Definitely will next time.

 

Starting Strength Update – Week 4

So this is week 4 of my attempt at the Starting Strength program, and I can report one big positive and one big negative.

The Good

The good news first: I’ve increased my strength dramatically, pretty quickly. Yesterday I easily deadlifted 225. Easily. Probably could have thrown another 25lbs on there but some anorexic looking chick decided she was going to use the Smith machine that I was setup right next to. Talk about awkward.

The Bad

Unfortunately I took week 3 off for two reasons:

  1. Major neck pains. I can’t recall if I blogged about this already but a few weeks ago I broke down and went to my doctor in hopes he would send me for an MRI. I tried it before and chickened out (I’m claustrophobic). That was 4 years or so ago and at the time the idiot neurologist that sent me for the MRI said it wasn’t really necessary because he was certain I had a pinched nerve and no matter what the results of the MRI there wasn’t anything he was going to do about it. So of course when I went into the tube, which apparently was NOT an open MRI as I was told it was by the hospital when I made the appointment, I panicked and chickened out. It was easier knowing I didn’t *have to* get the results. I’m confident I’d stick it out this time around, but to my surprise my doc said he thinks the problem is some mild arthritis in my neck and he sent me for an x-ray, which confirmed it. That was the beginning of week two of the Starting Strength program, so I pushed forward and kept adding more weight with each workout, as prescribed. The last workout that week, I was really struggling with the squat weight. The next day my neck was hurting on the left-side versus the usual right-side, so I took it easy for a few days, and it remained annoyingly painful for a full week+. I still feel it some, but not nearly as bad.
  2. Flexibility. Yup, it’s still a huge issue and is stopping me from making more progress quickly. But it’s forcing me to realize that stretching before the lifts is just not only an option but a necessity. So yesterday, my first workout back from the week off, I modified Starting Strength to something I can do:
    1. Warm-up by walking on treadmill for 10 mins
    2. Deep squat stretching
    3. Deep arm/shoulder stretching
    4. Workout, but aside from a couple of quick warm-up sets (one very little weight, one medium weight), I have abandoned the way too many warm-up sets that SS prescribes, because it was taking close to 2 hours to finish a workout when you consider the stretching I needed to do.

The trouble is finding the stretches that really work for me. I’m going to continue to refine and hope to report back more progress and specifically a routine for stretching, as I’m certain I can’t be the ONLY person struggling with this! Hard to believe that I’ve been working on this since May and I’m still so inflexible.

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