Monday, March 31, 2008

Dropping inches and gaining pounds?

The Numbers

Here are this week's results by the numbers:

Weight - 234 (229 last week)
Blood Pressure - 140/78 (131/81 last week)
Heart Rate - 75 (75 last week)

Nicole and I also took measurements last night:

Hips - 43 1/2" (43 3/4" on March 10)
Waist - 44 7/8" (46 7/8" on March 10)
Chest - 45 7/8" (46 3/4" on March 10)
Neck - 18" (18 1/4" on March 10)
Biceps - 15 1/2" (14 7/8" on March 10)
Thighs - 24 1/2" (28 3/4" on March 10)
Calves - 16 3/4" (16 5/8" on March 10)

Now is it just me, or do these numbers make absolutely no sense? I am now 1 pound heavier than I was when I started tracking this stuff but yet, with the exception of biceps and calves, am significantly smaller. I fully understand that people tend to plateau 4-6 weeks into weight loss treks (I am now at 4 weeks), but I am just really surprised as to what happened. Maybe I should have taken that really big dump before I weighed myself and not an hour afterwards.

Now let us focus on the measurements. The thigh measurement is not a typo; I really have lost 4 1/4". This is certainly due to the fact that every workout (5-6 workouts per week) I am on the elliptical. Just by looking in the mirror, they will probably get bigger from this point on. My legs are really lean muscle, and with the weight training will certainly [hopefully] get str0nger. Also notice that my gut went down exactly 2"; this proves the need for the suit jacket adjustment noted in the previous blog.

Here are some quick notes on the other measurements:

Neck - This will only get 1/2" smaller at most
Calves - Dear God I hope they continue to get bigger; I first gained the nickname "Chicken Legs" in sixth grade
Biceps - Hells yeah! These guns are dangerous!
Hips - One day I might consider the Hank Hill butt implants, especially if they continue to get smaller
Chest - This will most likely stay right around where they are for a long time

At the Gym: Adding a Third Set & Better at the Cardio

The Fairfax County Rec Centers have a computer system called Fitlinxx. It is really cool in that there is a touch screen at each weight station that keeps track of your last workout's results, where your seat settings should be at, and whether or not you are lifting at the appropriate speed. The rec center also assigns a trainer to everyone who has an account set up. At the main computer station, I had a message waiting for me by my trainer saying to see her about reaching all of my weight lifting goals for the month. Being the non-expert on these matters, I went and saw her.

Fortunately she was in the rec center, so I met up with her that day. We had a short conversation about making sure that I have been going up in my weights (which I had been), and the result was to move to 3 sets of 15 instead of 2 sets. Holy crap that one set made a world of difference! On machines that I could do the 2 sets of 15 with effort, that third set was nearly impossible. Fifteen sounds like a small number, but add 50 pounds to each count.

I hit a cardio milestone over the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday I completed 2 miles on the elliptical in under 19 minutes each day. My goal for this week is to add a third mile and complete it in under 27 minutes. I will definitely have to have a separate 5 minute warm-up on the treadmill (the 19 minutes included the warm-up) to get my legs moving, but I know that I will be able to do it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Interval Training and Bike Riding

In the Weight Room

Interval training is a lot harder in practice than what it appears on paper!

Until I get back health insurance (despite my knees feeling better, it still feels like there is stuff floating around in my left knee), I will not run on a tread mill. Instead I use either an elliptical or the stair stepper elliptical thing for my cardio. Low impact does not mean easier.

Last night I did my first interval session (on the elliptical). It consisted of a four minute warm up (4 mph), four minutes of hard (7 mph), two minutes easy (4 mph), two minutes of even harder (7.5 mph), two minutes easy (4 mph), two minutes balls to the wall (8 mph), and cooling down for five minutes (3.5 mph). I almost puked. What made matters worse was the fact that my iPod was dead, meaning that not only I felt like crap, but I was bored.

Nevertheless, this was still a really good workout. I walked around for about five minutes to get my heart rate back under 140 bpm and hit the weights. Speaking of weights, I am beginning to see a possible benefit of being way overweight. Certain parts of my body are disproportionately strong. Take my back, for example. On the back extension machine I am up to two 15 rep sets of 180 pounds with 99% form accuracy (form accuracy is the grade assigned to full reps, not letting the weights touch, and a full second up and down on each rep). Any exercise involving my chest, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Maybe I should have walked around on my hands more often.

On the Bicycle

Today I am going to take a trip on my bike around the National Mall. It is part boredom, part getting me out of the apartment, and part fitness. Of all the dumb excuses not to do this sooner, it is the fact that my drums have been sitting my Xterra for the past week and a half. I suppose it is time to work on my upper body and haul those drums inside.

Anyways, this should be cool seeing the cherry blossoms for the first time in my third season that I have been out here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Little Bit More

Quantified Progress

Now it is time to just lay it all out there and state my first publicly tracked week of physical fitness progress. These are all week-to-week numbers:

Weight - 229 (from 230)
Blood Pressure - 131/81 (from 134/86)
Resting Heart Rate - 75 (from 88)

As you can see, I only lost one pound. This does not concern me for two reasons:
  1. I am heading the right direction.
  2. I am down four pounds during a two week period, meaning that on average I am down an amount that will translate into keeping it off (you are supposed to lose 2-3 pounds per week).
Although the one pound is a success, it's certainly not one that I am going to get overly excited about. By no means am I discounting the downward trend, but I am just not exactly doing back flips over it.

It may require a spotter (or two), but I will do back flips over the blood pressure and heart rate. First, the blood pressure is just barely over healthy (the systolic, or top number, is to be 120 or less; the diastolic, or bottom number, is to be under 80). I am still pre-hypertensive, but I am hoping to be out of this range in the next 30-60 days. For the first time in a very long time, the resting heart rate is in the healthy range (under 80 bpm). In fact, my first reading of 103 bpm on March 10 was so high that I should have had a discussion with my doctor about it.

Anecdotal Progress

As I said in my last posting, I have been looking for a job since just before Thanksgiving of last year. During the last week of November, I bought an interview suit. This was because my other suit was starting to get a little worn, and, more importantly, it did not fit. As much as I would love to rely on the former excuse, the latter was the more accurate reason. I had outgrown my size 46R jacket, and my 38" waist 30" inseam pants were more like 38" waist 26" inseam slacks. This was not good.

As much as I did not want to drop money on expensive articles of clothing, I broke down and bought a new suit. The good news was that Macy's was running a sale, and I picked up a beautiful pin striped Calvin Klein suit for under $350. The bad news was that my slacks went up to a 40" waist and the jacket was a 48R in which each seam had to be let out. Figure in a dress shirt, matching tie, alterations, and tax and I ended up having to drop $470. This was because I let myself get unhealthy. Note the financial impact of not taking care of yourself.

Time elapse: four months

This past Saturday I went back to Macy's to have my jacket refitted. I put it on the other day and it looked as though I was a little boy wearing daddy's suit. At least 2" will need to be taken out of each side seam, and the buttons will probably have to be moved in. As much as I hate having a jacket that I have only worn three times rebuilt, it sure feels good knowing that my clothes do not fit. For once, it is not because the clothes are too small, but instead it is because I am too small.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

An Introduction

I am fat and unhealthy.

This is a completely true statement. Just as recently as last November I was so heavy that I struggled to roll myself over in bed at night; I could not be on my feet for more than an hour without requiring a day for my knees to recover; and, most scarily, I would get winded going up the 10 or so steps into my condo. I weighed in at a whopping 267 pounds (for reference, I am 5'10" tall) and my blood pressure was 160/115. Needless to say, something needed to be done immediately, before my 29 year old body shut down.

Roots of motivation are curious things. On November 16, 2007, I was laid off from my job as IT Project Manager. I had worked my way up the ranks from a nobody in a Purchasing Training Program into my second promotion onto the National stage. This is exactly where I wanted to be. My fiance and I were due to close on a beautiful house in Denver. I was influential at an enterprise level. My career was set. And then my company let go of 1/3 of the IT department. Just two days after this mass layoff, my position was eliminated because the resources didn't exist to complete projects.

As much of a shot to the gut this was (and continues to be as I search for employment four months later), it forced me to take a look at the parts of my life outside of work. For obvious reasons, I took a very granular look at my expenditures. To my horror, I was spending $800-1000 per month on food, and from July through November 2007, 89.96% of my food expenses were on meals not cooked in my own kitchen! This trend certainly existed before last July, but this is as far back as the data existed.

Although the motive behind grossly limiting my carry out food intake was originally financial, only eating out once per week (and making healthier choices when eating out) paid nearly instant weight loss dividends. By the middle of January 2008, I was around 240 pounds. This was still clearly unhealthy, and it was obvious that I needed to do more than cook 20 of my 21 meals per week. My fiance and I joined the Fairfax County Rec Center.

It did take nearly a month to use the membership (we signed up on February 12 and worked out for the first time on March 4), but results are already being realized. I am quantify kind of guy, so here are the numbers:

November 2007
Weight - 267 pounds
Blood Pressure - 160/115
Resting Heart Rate - Unknown, but probably way too high
Mile Time - Ridiculously long with a one day recovery

March 10, 2008
Weight - 233 pounds
Blood Pressure - 153/95
Resting Heart Rate - 103 bpm
Mile Time - 20 minutes on an elliptical

March 17, 2008
Weight - 230 pounds
Blood Pressure - 134/86
Resting Heart Rate - 88 bpm
Mile Time - 2 consecutive 11 minute miles on an elliptical

As much as I agree with Lester Burnham in American Beauty ("I just want to look good naked."), the numbers that I am most interested in involve my heart. Heart disease runs in my family (I could write an entire Blog entry regarding the number of family members who have suffered heart attacks), and seeing a week-to-week drop from 153/95 to 134/86 in blood pressure is extremely motivating. In just one week, I have moved from Stage 1 High Blood Pressure to Pre-hypertensive.

Working backwards to the original purpose of my weight loss, I want to be healthy. This means that I will do whatever it takes to lower my blood pressure, increase my stamina, lose weight, and drop inches. To ensure that the big picture is not forgotten, I am also taking monthly size measurements. Here are my March 10 numbers:

Waist - 46 7/8"
Hips - 43 3/4"
Chest - 46 3/4"
Neck - 18 1/4"
Biceps - 14 7/8"
Thighs - 28 3/4"
Calves - 16 5/8"

To wrap things up, I will answer this simple question: Why am I writing this Blog? The answer is twofold. First, it is therapeutic to document my difficulties and accomplishments regarding something I have struggled with for most of my adult life. I managed to quit smoking and put myself through college, but I have not been able to get healthy. By writing down the choices I have been (and will be) making, I will not only have a place to vent but also concretely view the positive impact of my choices.

The second motivator is to help inspire those who share my struggles. I fully understand how frustrating it is to step into the gym that first time. When I graduated high school, I weighed 170 pounds, would start my bench press regiment at 150 pounds (and end at 225), curl three 15 rep sets of 95 pounds, and leg press 250 pounds as part of my strength conditioning. During my first workout, I could barely complete two 12 rep sets of 40 pounds curls, lift 120 pounds in the leg press, and I am afraid to see what I can bench press.

I have already experienced significant improvements on these numbers, and I will share my progress in future posts. For now, understand that I am struggling with you. Even though lifting the weights and running on the elliptical are extremely difficult, understanding that there are other people out there with the exact same struggles makes it easier to pull up the boot straps and make something happen.

For those who are in the same health condition that I am, I wish you the best of luck. This is likely going to be the most difficult thing I have ever done, but I look forward to the challenge.

Let's do this together!