Friday, May 29, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: May 29th

I mentioned this on Twitter the other day: This has been a banner week for good fitness reads. Let me know which one is your favorite!

It's Time to Finally Convince Your Clients the Scale Doesn't Matter: A lot of factors go into your weight, and you can be making good progress without actually shedding any pounds.

61 Percent of Your Calories Are From Highly Processed Food: I'm not an anti-processing zealot, but that's too much. Processed foods tend to be nutrient-poor and less satisfying -- meaning you eat more of them.

This Is How Many Calories You Actually Need: This is a pretty good calculator and explanation from Buzzfeed. Figure out your basal metabolic rate, then add in your activity level and voila!

The Worst Diet I've Ever Tried: The Tomorrow Diet: This is the dietary complement to my Inertia article. It's hard breaking out of a rut, but Erica House gives you some good ideas on how to get your diet straightened out.

Is Perfect Form Actually Important?  Yes and no. You don't want to leave yourself susceptible to injury, but everyone's body is a little different, so there's no one perfect way to do any exercise.

Plank to Be a Stronger Runner: Core strength is key to any fitness regimen, and the plank is a great way to achieve it. RunBuzz gives us some variations for people who've never planked before.

Is Your VO2 Max High Enough to Prevent Heart Disease? The maximum amount of oxygen your body can process is a strong indicator of your heart health. That improves through exercise.

The Truth About Caffeine and Endurance Performance: I rarely link videos, but this is a good one. Caffeine can help you in races, but only if your body isn't acclimated to it. 

Here's Why You Should Run Hard on Trails: Off-road running presents different challenges, and you'll make more gains if you attack those challenges. Alex Hutchinson gives us some specific suggestions on how to get the most out of trail running. 

How Fixing Muscle Imbalances Is the Secret to Less Injuries: Part two of The Flog Blog's series -- this one focusing on the fixes, once you've diagnosed the problem. (The copyeditor in me is screaming at the usage error in the title, but the article is spot-on.)

No More Training Cults: This could apply outside the lifting community, too. Hard work and consistency will go a long way for you, regardless of your program. So don't ridicule people for doing something different.

Maintain Your Strengths While Working on Your Weaknesses: Some suggestions on how you can actually burn the candle at both ends.

The Disturbing "Pro-Ana" Boards That Pinterest Banned: You know how much I hate "fitspo."  It's not just counterproductive, it's dangerous.

Strength Workouts May Yield Significant Improvement in 5K Times: We've been through this before -- you need both cardio and strength training.

10 Steps for Making Hot Weather Tolerable: Sure, you could just take your training indoors all summer. Or you could try some of these suggestions for how to get it done during the summer.

Getting Started With Strength Training: This is an absolutely fantastic breakdown of the different types of strength training and how to make it work for you. A must read for Regular Guys. 

Six Exercises for a Stronger Core: Some of these I do, some look frightening.

Why Do Some Experts Recommend Alternating Between Two Pairs of Running Shoes? Studies have shown that you'll get more life out of your shoes if you give them a rest.

12 People Who Lost 50+ Pounds Share Their Best Advice: This is solid Regular Guy thinking -- stuff like: "Make healthy changes one at a time and build on each one."  

Out There: Locker Room Etiquette: Basic rule of thumb: Don't be a creep. Limit your naked time, and leave other naked people alone.

Train That Brain:  A big part of improving is removing the mental barriers that hold you back. Nobody's saying you're headed to the Olympics, but you are probably capable of more than you realize.

Monday, May 25, 2015

This Is My Church

It's a funny thing: I didn't really plan to make a big online deal about my dad's passing last Saturday. I mentioned it in the Regular Guy Reads of the Week, to explain why Friday's haul was thin. I also mentioned it in one post each on the FftRG Facebook and Twitter feeds (and a little more on my personal FB feed). The outpouring of support I've gotten from Regular Guys and Gals has been absolutely amazing. I want to thank everyone, truly.

Dad wasn't much for a public fuss -- he didn't even like birthday parties -- and he didn't want a wake or funeral. Even if I'd had any say-so in the arrangements (I didn't), of course I would have respected his wishes. But I've always believed that the physical act of grieving -- dealing with a funeral director, choosing flowers, sitting with family, talking to people you haven't seen since the last death in the family -- is cathartic. And our family didn't have that.

So when I did post on Facebook and Twitter last week, I uploaded a photo I'd taken that morning, during my first run after a prolonged respiratory infection and then my dad's passing. And I captioned it, "This is my church."

This is my church.
Working out, particularly running, is probably the most spiritual part of my life. It's the time when I turn inward, when my mind is most in touch with my body. I'm focused on every breath, every step, every swing of my arms. But amazingly, it's simultaneously the time when I'm most able to work through the thoughts and issues and problems in my life. And even more amazing, it's the time when I'm most aware of my environment -- when I'm tuned into all of the man-made and natural things around me. I suppose I could say that running is my form of meditation.

So when I went for that first run last week, finally, it occurred to me: Seeing as I'm not going to have the chance to grieve my dad in a religious sanctuary, funeral home, cemetery or anywhere else, this is where I'm going to do it. It was while I was running that I really started to work on my feelings for my dad. When I was alone in my sanctuary, I could begin to process the good, the bad, the regrets, the memories, the anger, the sadness -- the whole damn thing.

My dad and I had a complicated relationship. His passing has forced me to examine that, reflect on it and try to put it into some kind of context. I don't expect to find any easy answers, and I don't anticipate that I'll really put it into the rear-view mirror for a long time. But I do know where I'll be looking for those answers.

Because this is my church.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: May 22nd

A thin week this week -- my apologies. As some of you know, I've had some family tumult this week and haven't been doing a ton of reading. Keep strong, and as I said on Facebook earlier this week, don't smoke. Ever.

Seven Cult Workouts That Changed Fitness: There's no such program that's the end-all, be-all, but the advantage to programs is you have it laid out for you.

More Than a Third of U.S. Adults Have Metabolic Syndrome: We're talking about high blood pressure, abdominal fat, etc. -- all the things that lead to heart attack, stroke, diabetes... Scary.

Seven Tips for Running in Heat and Humidity: Perfect topic for Memorial Day weekend.

Gluten-Free Diet May Not Boost Athletic Performance:  Very small study, so much more research is needed, but just another reply to the "insulin, inflammation, gluten-is-evil" crowd.

2014 Running USA Annual Marathon Report:  No surprise here -- more people than ever are running marathons, and we're doing it slower than ever. My 4:16 last year was below the mean for men in my age group. I'd be interested to see data on the median, though.

A Doctor's View of Crossfit:  If there's a takeaway here, it's that lower reps and better form are a recipe for success. I'm not going to comment on whether Crossfit accomplishes that, because I've never been to one.

11 of the Best Life Lessons You Can Learn While Running: Beginnings are hard, there will be ups and downs, and you'll lean more and more on data and knowledge -- just three of the 11.

Four Things Your Body Expects You to Know About Muscle Imbalances: After bad form, I think muscle imbalances are the top cause of exercise injury. Unfortunately, diagnosing them is the easy part.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Got Me Off the Couch: Big Man Sas's Story

You might know Jason as Big Man Sas on Twitter. He’s married with three wonderful kids and an awesome wife, living in Washington state. He says, “I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my adult life and decided it was time to make a lifestyle change by running and eating right.” Check out Jason's blog at

It was a beautiful summer evening in the Northwest when I realized I was really out of shape. I mean all the signs were there, especially the reflection I saw in the mirror, but sometimes it takes one pivotal event that makes you realize what’s wrong.

I sat on my porch in my favorite chair, enjoying the fading light of the sun and the sounds of the trees blowing in the gentle wind. I have been here many nights before and many nights since. I have always liked being outside and connecting with nature, ever since I was a kid. I find it relaxing and peaceful, an escape from the stress of the day.

This night would prove not to be one of those evenings.

As I sat, lost in a book I was reading, I felt a subtle shift in my chair. Nothing major, just a small movement that could have been just me adjusting my position. I checked the chair best I could, stretching as best I could to check the legs and connections. Seeing nothing, I leapt back into my book without a care.

That’s when it happened. The front legs, stressed under my 316-pound body, gave way. They folded straight out and my once comfortable seat inclined, sliding me right out onto the porch. I sat there on my butt thinking, “I need to lose some weight.”

Not Always a Big Man

I wasn’t always a Big Man. In fact, growing up, I was really skinny. I played soccer and was active all the time -- riding bikes, playing with friends, normal kid stuff. It wasn’t till I went to college that I started to put on some weight. I wasn’t as active as I was before, but I really didn’t notice anything wrong, just I was getting a little gut.

No big deal! I played soccer still, I was active in an improv group, and I could still buy my clothes from places like the Gap. I really wasn’t concerned with it.

I really never thought about my weight till I ran into an old high school friend. I was working at a restaurant and he came in one day. We caught up on what we had been doing for the last few years, just like we never missed a day.

He did leave me with one comment that got me to thinking: “You look a lot bigger.”

That started my dieting phase.

Yo-Yo Dieting

I knew I needed to lose weight and I wanted to do it fast. Everywhere I looked, there were plans promising to be the end-all of dieting, and I tried a bunch of them. All of them have their advantages, as you can lose weight fast, but it never lasted.

The biggest problem I had was restricting my diet so much. I would shed weight like it was no one’s business and I was committed. I tried Atkins, Weight Watchers, calorie counting -- and they all worked for a time. I even entered a biggest loser contest at my local gym and won! The issue was, after I lost the weight, I would stop dieting.

It was like I was rewarding myself for losing the weight by eating all the food I wanted. I thought if I could lose all this weight, I could take a break and just get back to it when I wanted to lose more. Basically start where I left off.

I was sabotaging my own plan!

This was the cycle I was stuck in for years. Lose weight, gain it back and more, and then lose weight again. Not a very healthy lifestyle.

Eventually, I decided there was no point in dieting. Every time I tried, I would just fail and gain all my weight back. So I stopped trying to lose weight for years and just ate what I wanted and sat on the couch watching TV and playing video games.

Big Man Lifestyle

Being a Big Man is tough. Things aren’t really made for your size, and it can be pretty embarrassing to try to fit into chairs and spaces that others have no issue doing.

Movie theaters, sports arenas and planes were not my friends. I was embarrassed to try to squeeze into a seat next to someone and have my fat roll over the armrest and into his or her seat. If I could take up two seats, it would make things a little easier.

Going to restaurants was a challenge also. I didn’t fit in booths and would always hope for a table. The problem was that most people like booths, and whenever I would go with a group, we would end up in one. Having my belly press up against the table was not only extremely uncomfortable, it was extremely embarrassing.

Unless I was alone, eating out was not fun. In fact, the drive-through became my best friend. I could get what I want and eat in peace, with no one there to judge me.

I ended up limiting myself to what I wanted to do based on my size. It was frustrating.

Time for a Change

It all came together when I slid off my porch chair that summer night. I realized I was heading for an early grave. My wife and kids were concerned about my health. I had no energy and no passion to do anything. I was tired all the time and depressed.

I had figured this was how the rest of my life was going to be and it was hard to accept. I had to do something.

So I decided to make a drastic change in my life. I decided to take up running!

I had never run before (except in school when we were required to), and had it never really interested me, but I had to do something. I looked at runners and how they appeared, and thought that is what I want, to be skinny and healthy.

I found a plan to get me off the couch and go from walking to running, and headed out the door, full of hope and promise. Things were going to be different this time.

The biggest change I made, and the one thing that keeps me going, is accountability. This accountability was not only to my family and friends, but also to the world. Before, if I failed, only a few close family members would know -- if any. That’s not so hard to get past. But having to explain myself to a bunch of people is not worth the effort to stop losing weight.

I started a blog and began chronicling each and every run on my journey. How I felt, how the runs went, how far -- everything.

I coupled that with eating less and eating right. I’ve always heard weight loss is 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise, so I knew I had to make a change there (again). It is a simple calorie-tracking app I am using, going for sustained weight loss over time.

Consistent running and accountability have given me the motivation I need to remain on this path. Without them, I am positive I would have repeated the diet yo-yo and been worse off than before.

On the day I am writing this, I have lost 47 pounds!

I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: May 15th

Sorry I've been off the case this week. In what I can only look at as irony, almost immediately after publishing the Inertia piece, I came down with a respiratory infection that has kept me from exercising for 10 days now. This two-week compendium of links is a total hodgepodge, but there's some good stuff.

10 Exercise Cheats That Blow Your Calorie Burn: This one's from People. Make sure you're getting the most out of your workouts. Don't hang onto the handrails. Don't use momentum while lifting. Stuff like that.

The Truth Behind Five Food Myths: I expected the usual anti-carb rant here, but this is actually good info. For example, what do you really know about HFCS?

How Many Calories to Lose Weight? The Banana Effect: The author would probably resist this description, but this is a really good complement to a calories-in-calories-out/if-it-fits-your-macros approach.

The Caloric Deficit Cheat Sheet: Good ole common-sense tips on how to keep an eye on the calories-in half of the equation. You should really check this one out.

Clean Eating Vs. Healthy Eating: Shopping at Whole Foods and never touching Twinkies isn't a guarantee of anything.

How Caffeine Affects Athletic Performance: For all you Regular Guy coffee lovers out there: Your morning cuppa is good for you!

Finally, A Clear and Useful Definition of What "Good Form" Means: If you read nothing else this week, read this. It's not a bunch of rules on exactly how to position your feet, legs, arms, hands, etc. It's about understanding how to exercise safely and effectively while leaving wiggle room for the quirks of your own body.

Is There an Ideal Running Form? This is a more expert analysis of my blog post from a few weeks ago. The conclusion is fairly similar, though. 

Heart of the Matter: Exercise reduces your risk of cardiovascular problems, but it doesn't make you immune.

Protein, Supplements and Building Muscles: A good overview from Hal Higdon's website. As we've discussed, your protein/carb ratio should reflect both your starting point and your goals.

Four Types of Running Workouts (And Why You Should Be Doing Them All): Nothing new here for experienced runners, but this is a good overview of a program that can help you improve.

Cyclists Are 40 Percent Less Stressed Than Other Commuters: The title pretty much says it all. 

Keeping a Running Log: From Big Man Sas. Keeping some kind of diary helps you track your progress, and studies show that you'll push yourself more when it's in writing.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fitness Enemy Number-One: Inertia

What's the biggest challenge to your healthy lifestyle? If you're like just about everyone I know, it's inertia.

One unplanned off day becomes two or three, and then a week, and it goes downhill from there. Or one day of eating and drinking becomes a weekend, and then "to hell with it," and you couldn't even take a guess at your daily calorie intake. Sometimes, the lack of exercise and poor diet go hand in hand.

OK, are you ready for the big guilt trip? Too bad. You won't get one from me.

First of All, Don't Beat Yourself Up

Sure, sometimes what you need is a swift kick to the rear-end. But for most of us, that just makes things worse. That's the problem with inertia. You feel like you can't break it, and the more people try to help you, the harder it gets. Or, more succinctly, "Eff it, why bother?" A while back, I wrote about my problem with "fitspo." It's not likely to get you off the couch in the first place, so why would anyone think it'll work now?

The thing is, there are plenty of perfectly reasonable explanations for how you got off track:
  • Work sometimes takes over your life.
  • Maybe your wife has been sick and needed you to pick up the slack on the home front.
  • Maybe you've been sick or injured yourself.
  • Vacation. There's no shame in taking your week off as a week off.
  • A change in your daily routine can screw up your workout schedule.
  • Stress. Some people use exercise to relieve stress, but that doesn't work for everyone.
You can probably add some of your own. And it's not hard to see how these things can affect your diet, too.

So cut yourself some slack. You're a Regular Guy, and you have Regular Guy priorities. As fitness coach Mike Samuels writes, "Healthy body, healthy mind and all that, but if nutrition is just one more stress on top of everything else, take a break and look after number-one18-inch biceps and visible abs don't make you a better person."

There's only one problem: Your body doesn't care. Your body doesn't care that the reason you've been eating takeout almost every night is that you've been working till 9:00. Your body doesn't care that you've been traveling constantly and have been too tired to hit the gym. Your body doesn't care that your kid smacked up the car and you had to carpool for two weeks. You're going to lose some fitness, and you're going to add some weight. It's understandable, but it's also inevitable.

OK, so now what? You want to get yourself back on track, but if it were really that easy, you would have done it already, right? How do you break the inertia?

What Happens When You Get Off Track?

My last two weeks of January
Susan Paul at Runner's World actually answered this question really well in response to a reader query this week. The short version is that your aerobic capacity -- your ability to take in and use oxygen -- suffers. There are a number of physiological processes that go into this. And you'll start to lose some strength, too.

I don't think that it's coincidence that you start to lose both aerobic fitness and strength after about two weeks. Our bodies have a knack for seeking balance.

Of course, there are a lot of variables in play, such as your genetics, how fit and strong you were to start, just how inactive you've been and how old you are. But I think this is a good basic barometer for the average Regular Guy. So if it's been less than two weeks and you're ready to get back to it, you can probably stop reading here. Maybe take care not to overdo it in your first workout back, but you should be basically fine to pick up where you left off.

But What If It's Been a Longer Layoff?

There are two battles to fight here: the mental and the physical.

The mental battle is probably the tougher of the two. And the longer it's been, the harder it is to persuade yourself to break the inertia. Here are some tips for getting your head back in the game.

Remember That You're Not a Noob: You may be out of shape, but you still know what to do how to do it. You haven't forgotten the basics of and running form. You know how to use the equipment at the gym. You still have your gym gear and shoes. Remember when you were first starting out and you knew none of this? You're already ahead of that guy.

Be a Little Patient: Because you're not a noob, you're not going to waste time with stuff that doesn't work. It's going to be tough sledding at first, but you'll get back to a good place more quickly than you would if you were really just beginning a fitness plan.

You Know You're Capable: I know this is easier said than internalized, but it has to count for something to have already achieved something -- even if you've let it go. Sure, we all have our doubts. But you've scaled this mountain, so you know you can. Try not to let anyone or anything convince you otherwise.

Focus on the Here and Now: It's good to have goals. But don't worry about the long term right away. For the time being, your goal should be just to get going. Get that first workout under your belt, and then start planning for the next one. Don't worry about how you look or how many pounds you want to shed. Just put one metaphorical foot in front of the other.

Start With the Stuff You Like: I've said this before: Any coach or trainer will tell you that the best workout is the one you'll actually do. If you can't bear the idea of going out for a run or trying to deadlift, don't. Go for a hike. Play basketball. Ride your bike. Get started by getting that heart rate up a little bit. Just like inertia, momentum is also tough to break. If you're doing stuff you like, you'll keep doing it.

Give Yourself Permission to Bail: Get your gear on, drive to the gym, go through your warm-up and tell yourself, "I'll give this five minutes. If I'm absolutely miserable, I'll just pack it in." No, really. Tell yourself that. Because the thing is, once you get going, you're a lot more likely to keep going than to quit after five minutes -- especially since you're not putting too much pressure on yourself.

Reward Yourself: I'm not a big believer in rewards, because for a lot of people, that means food. And that can undo the good you've just done. Instead, every time you finish a workout, put a dollar in a jar or an envelope. And when you've saved $30, buy yourself something just for you.

Reach Out for Support: Make a date to work out with a friend, or even just trade war stories online. There's nothing like a little accountability to keep you moving, and it's always good to know that other people are feeling the same struggles you are.

Don't Ignore the Physical Obstacles

Getting your mindset right is definitely the bigger of the two obstacles here, but you still need to be cognizant of the physical issues. You're just getting back to it; you don't want to be sidelined again by an injury or a sense of failure. So make sure you're not overdoing it right away.

Start With the Basics: Competitive runners go through one or two "base-training" phases every year, where they're simply logging miles and building up endurance before getting into race-specific training plans. You've been off your game for a while, so it makes sense for you to build up your base, too. This is not the time for speedwork at the track, HIIT or a complex lifting program. Give your cardiovascular system a chance to increase its capacity and your muscles a chance to get used to the workload.

Forget Hardcore: One of the toughest things for any Regular Guy is intentionally limiting yourself when you feel like you can do more. But even if you feel like you could go that extra mile or you could add that extra plate to the bar, don't. It's not just your lungs, heart and musculature; your bones and connective tissue have to re-acclimate, too. If you don't want to end up right back on the DL, start small and work your way back gradually.

Be Consistent: OK, you've gotten that first workout under your belt, and you don't feel like you're ready to die. It's not going to do you much good if you wait a week to do it again. Yes, you need to rest for your cells to regenerate, but if you're not moving at least three days a week, you won't see much in the way of gains.

You Can Do This!

Let's tie this all together:

  • Stuff happens in life, and the best of us get off track sometimes.
  • It's not easy to get past the mental roadblocks, but you have some tools in your bag.
  • You know you've done it before, so you can do it now.
  • The smart Regular Guy sees the long-term, not just the here and now, and works his way back gradually.
The bottom line: You're worth the effort. Being able to live the life you want to live -- to enjoy work, family and friends -- is rewarding, and getting yourself back to that feeling of fitness is one of the major building blocks. Remember that great feeling of being able to keep up with your kids, or do the heavy lifting that needs doing around the house, or simply catching your wife checking you out when you get ready for bed. And remember that you're setting yourself up for a long lifetime of those moments. It sounds a little corny, but remind yourself: YOU ARE AWESOME!

Got some awesome stories to tell about coming back from illness, injury or just a long layoff? Need a little push from some other Regular Guys? Sound off in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: May 1st

Again, apologies for skipping a week. I hope this double shot makes up for it. And please, please, please, if you've written something worth including, send it my way!

10 Ways to Unsuck Diet Food: I run hot and cold with T-Nation in general, so I came at this with a skeptical eye. But these are really, really great suggestions.

Advice to a Young Athlete: This article has a lot of suggestions for how to make smaller gains once you've gotten past the initial hurdles. The takeaway is that there's no one secret for clearing secondary plateaus.

Who Was the Dad Leading the Boston Marathon at Mile One? This one's just for fun. A non-elite went balls-out for a mile to be on TV for his kids.

10 Bad Questions Every Personal Trainer Asks: There's plenty of Regular Guy advice in here, too, such as: There is no one perfect workout.

Is the Run-Walk Method Better for Your Health? It's a tradeoff. You have a better chance of reducing soreness after a long race, but you'll be slower.

On Food Labels, Calorie Miscounts:  Some detail on how many calories you burn digesting various macros, and on how fiber alters the math.

Running Faster Is All in the Hips: Building on yesterday's blog post about form.

Oxygen Supply v. Demand:  Though it's written for runners, this is a pretty technical explanation for why you really should try to warm up your muscles before any exercise.

What Happens to Your Body by Skipping the Gym: Pretty good summary of stuff we've discussed. One week isn't the end of the world, but after that, you will notice a falloff in fitness.

How I Got Converted to GMO Food: I've met Jane Goodall. She's one of the greatest people in the whole world. But she's off base in this debate. GMO food is not poison -- in many cases, it allows farmers not to use pesticides.

Should Alcohol Be Forced to List Calories? Yes!

Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Becomes an Obsession: This is a good reminder of why the 80-20 rule works.