Sunday, January 13, 2013

So you've made a commitment to lose weight? What next?

Do a quick Google search for "How to lose weight" (or something similar), and you'll find thousands of other opinions on this subject. I've read a lot of it, and if you are really serious about getting fit, I suggest you do the same. No one person, or website holds all of the answers, and one exercise you will need to work on during your fitness journey is the ability to read information and weed out the:

  • Fads
  • Just Plain Bad Info
  • Misguided Info 
  • 'Trying to Sell you Something' Info
  • Good Info
  • Great Info
Hopefully in some of my posts I can give you some of the latter two. If I give you misguided info, I'll go ahead an apologize up front. If I find out later that anything I have ever posted here was misguided, I will post an update.

Now. To the problem at hand. You want to lose weight, you want to get in shape. What do you do? Should you start walking, running, ellipticalling, cycling and/or swimming that weight off, or should you start pushing some weight around?

I've been on my journey since the end of '09, and I've definitely gone through quite a few stages during that time. I started walking. Really, I was so obese that was all I could do. Well, let me back up. As I first started walking, I did some other things too. When I first started, I had no real concept of calories, burning calories, building muscle or anything at all. I knew I was fat, and I didn't want to be that way any longer. I did all sorts of crazy things. I couldn't do a push up. I tried, and I got stuck on my floor wallowing around like a beached whale on my bedroom floor. Thankfully for us all, there is no video evidence of this. About the time I took my first walk (where I could barely make it 1/8 of a mile), I was also doing weird stuff at night to try and burn calories. Somehow I had such an inflated perception of how many calories these activities were really burning. Also, at the same time, no concept of how food intake, and energy burned via exercise related to each other.

It's been a while (seems like a lifetime to me) since those early days of me exercising, so I've probably forgotten some, but here is a rundown of some of my "exercises" that I did every night.

  • Stand, hold my arms out and make circles with my hands for as long as I could.
  • Sit, hold one leg out at a time, and make circles as long as I could.
  • Stand about 18 inches from the wall, lean forward and do "push-ups" against it.
  • Stand with both arms straight out and rotate approx 90 degrees in each direction (spinning at my hips).
These exercises may sound silly now, but I did them every night. I really thought I was working out, and although they may seem really basic to someone who is fit, they were absolutely excruciating to me.

I did these exercises and built up my walking. They stayed basically the same, but as I lost weight, I graduated to doing "knee push-ups", and I bought a couple of 15lb dumbells and Google'd the snot out of dumbbell exercises. I kept this routine up until my first gym visit.

What got me into the gym was lifting weight with my friend from work. What kept me in the gym was when I really saw results from spending a lot of quality time with my favorite elliptical machine.

So, looking at what I did, should you stick to cardio or throw in weight training as well? If you are as obese as I was, I think cardio is king for burning through some calories. You have to in order to lose as much fat as I had. Where I made my mistake, is I stuck with the cardio, and didn't take weight training serious enough for too long. I got caught up in the running bug, lost muscle along with my fat, beat my knees to hell and back and wound up a little "skinny-fat" with a lot of excess skin to show for it in the process. Start with cardio, but as soon as you start to look like what you consider "normal", or just plain "overweight" back off the cardio a little and then focus your workouts on building muscle. If you are lifting hard, and doing the right stuff, you'll still burn a lot of calories lifting weight. You have to replace some of that fat with muscle or you'll wind up like I did. You've then lost 160lbs and would still be embarrassed to be seen on the beach without a shirt. In fact, I think being regular old overweight would've looked better than what I looked like without a shirt at my lowest weight. From my neck, to my waist, I looked like an old man, with sagging wrinkly skin. Not what I wanted by a long shot.

I'm taking weight training seriously now, my diet is more dialed-in than ever, and I'm finally starting to look like what I want to look like when I look into a mirror with no shirt. I didn't do this for vanity, not at all, and don't get that impression. I would take the wrinkly sagging skin over all the fat any day. I'd rather be saggy, wrinkly and healthy any day of the week! Do not, however underestimate the importance of weight training. Start with the machines if you are more comfortable, but move to free weights at some point (easier if you have an experienced lifting partner or trainer - you don't want to get hurt!).

Right now, my training schedule looks like this:
4 days weight training, 2 days easy running, and 1 rest day. That gives me three days to recover from weight training and 5 to recover from running (I'm only running on the weekends now). Friday is always my rest day, and it's a treat to come straight home after work 1 day a week.

Another paradox you'll get stuck in, is that you need to have a calorie deficit to lose fat, and a calorie surplus to gain muscle. From my experience, I think a lot of the information around the web on that is a little exaggerated. I have gained muscle and lost fat while on a calorie deficit. I know it's possible. I cannot explain the physics behind it, but I believe an untrained body will build muscle on a calorie deficit if you are lifting heavy, and pushing yourself to increase your weight each session.

The first time I caught the "I'm getting skinny-fat, I need to bulk up" bug, I immediately went to a calorie surplus, and put fat back on in the process. Right now, I'm eating what would be considered "maintenance calories" for me, running 2 days a week, lifting heavy, and eating (or supplementing) 1g protein per pound of body weight each day. I am gaining muscle, and losing fat still. My scale is barely moving, except for the BF% reading it gives's going down.

On January 1, I started taking a picture of myself, with no shirt every night at the same time. I'm sure every night is overkill, but it will help me remember to do it, and I have a lot of disk space. Maybe in a year, I'll turn all those images into a movie or something. Who knows. The point is, if you see yourself change gradually over time, you don't notice it as much. I needed a visual snapshot so that I could see what I looked like each day. It's 13 days in, and I already see a difference versus the Jan 1 picture.

This is a pretty broad post, I know. I am going to make an effort to write one post a week with little anecdotes or tips that have worked for me on my journey. Perhaps, they can help you as well. 

Everyone starting out on a fitness journey is at a different starting point. It is so hard to give advice, but I'm going to try. I really want to help people make a difference in their lives. I'm not going to publish my e-mail here in the text of this post, but you can find me on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook or the comments section here on this blog. Please, if you need someone to talk with, let me know. I don't claim to be a fitness expert, or anything, but I believe in each and every one of you reading this. If you have a desire to make it happen, are willing to put in some work, you can make it happen. I know you can.

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