Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Let Go of the Past

Have you really committed to a Regular Guy lifestyle?

You've made some changes to your diet. You're getting some exercise. You're trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour. But the questions still remains: Have you cut the tethers that keep you tied to the old fella?

The thing is, it's comforting to know you're still anchored. That way, if things go wrong, you can always just reel yourself in to terra firma. But those tethers are also keeping you from truly reaching the heights you want to.

What's Holding You Back?

Here are some of the tethers. Maybe some of these sound familiar.

Keeping Your Fat-Guy Clothes

These jeans are in the bag going to Goodwill soon.
Some years ago, I lost a fair amount of weight, primarily through diet. But I never got rid of all those extra-large shirts and big-waisted pants. That way, if I ever gained the weight back, I wouldn't have to buy all new clothes. Let's be honest: What I was doing was giving myself permission to fail. It took me a year to lose the weight, and I kept it off for another, and then I spent the next four years gaining it all back. Guess what? I had a bunch of clothes that fit. It was like I'd planned it all along.

Stocking the Pantry With Comfort Food

If you've been reading the blog, you know I'm not big on deprivation. If you want the cookie, eat the damn cookie. But the temptation is to keep all your favorites around, in case a craving strikes. That's a recipe for disaster -- pun sort of intended. You're relying solely on your willpower, and nobody's willpower is that good. Pick a few things you want. Put them away in cabinets -- out of sight. Eat what you want when you're actually hungry. And stop buying all the rest.

Listening to Your Buddies

I'm in the back there with my tailgate crew
You're not the first Regular Guy you know to commit to being a fitter, healthier, better you. Remember the old days, when it'd be beers three, four, five nights a week? Or when you'd make fun of those guys who'd wake up early to hit the gym -- or worse, who'd curtail a night out because they had to get up early? Guess what?  Now you're going to be the one hearing those things. I'm not saying you shouldn't kick back with the guys once in a while -- you are keeping fit and living your life. But those guys don't get what you're trying to do. You're focused on the important stuff, like keeping up with your kids and being healthy for the long run. It's not their fault -- really, they're not doing anything wrong. You may not be the fun guy anymore, but it's up to you to tune that stuff out.

Listening to Your Mom

My mom has actually been really supportive!
It may not actually be your mom, but there is undoubtedly someone in your life who thinks your commitment to fitness is selfish and that you should revert to what he or she sees as a better version of you. But you know what? You're giving your family, friends and other loved ones the best version of you now! Are you really taking time from your responsibilities, or are you making time in your day that might otherwise go to TV or popping some coldies? People who exercise report feeling sharper and more focused, and we all know that cranky feeling when you don't get out there for a few days. It's not selfish to be the best you that you can be.

Let Go of Emotional Baggage

Of course, what you really have to let go of is the emotional baggage. You have to start seeing the fitness-minded you as the real you. For example, every time I run a race, I look around and feel like a fraud, like I'm crashing the party of the "real" runners. I've talked to other runners about this, and they all feel the same. But you know what? I am a real runner. I know what I'm capable of. And I'm going to keep doing it as long as I can.

So can you. So should you. You are striving toward your best you now. Don't let the past convince you otherwise.

What say you? What do you have trouble letting go of, and how does it get between you and your goals? Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: Labor Day Two-Week Edition

Sorry I haven't gotten to these for a while. To be honest, I've actually been hitting the gym hard and logging some miles on the beach and the pavement, too! But that's kind of taken up some of the time I devote to this. But here goes nuttin'!

Reach for Goals You REALLY Want: It seems obvious, but you're more likely to put in the work to achieve a goal if you have a strong motivating factor. For example, if you were personally affected by the Boston Marathon bombings, you're much more likely than the average Joe to run Boston. Find your motivation for the fitness lifestyle you're looking to adopt.

Why I Stopped Caring About Leanness: This blog post complements the previous one. It's easy to lose sight of why you're doing something when you get in too deep. You need to have a real motivator, but it also needs to be something that fits your life.

These 15 Guys Lost 50+ Pounds, and Their Tips Will Seriously Inspire You: Buzzfeed brings us some real-life advice. Some is obvious, like setting realistic goals. And some you might not have thought of, such as: For every 25 pounds you lose, treat yourself to a new, better-fitting set of clothes.

Scientists May Have Pinpointed the Reason for "Runner's High": And all this time, you thought it was a myth to trick you into exercising. Nope, research suggests it's a physiological reaction to a specific hormone that targets hunger.

How Often is BMI Misleading? About 18 percent of the time, BMI categorizations for underweight, normal weight and overweight do not correlate with body-fat percentage. Honestly, I thought it would be more. That said, I suspect that the percentage is higher among those who work out consistently and are building muscle.

What Anti-Diet Project's Kelsey Miller Eats: Here's a good real-world example of someone who dropped the diet mindset and just started eating generally healthy for the long haul.

No, You Don't Have to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day: The science is clear on this and has been for years. I'm a big proponent of the pee test. When you go, check the stream. You don't need to be clear, but it should be pale yellow. Bright yellow means you could use a drink, and dark yellow or orange is a good indicator you're dehydrated.

The Truth About GMOs: This will hardly be the final word on the subject, but I largely agree with it. GMOs are a convenient bogeyman, but they're really not a problem. You may have heard that some Kashi products recently tested high for the pesticide that's in Ortho Home Defense. Yeah, but what you didn't hear was that the amount was still less toxic than the caffeine in a cup of coffee. A true Regular Guy always employs a critical eye and ear.

Five Dangers of Superfoods: I am not a huge fan of the idea of "superfoods." Different foods have different nutritional makeups and nutritional densities -- there's no magic bullet. But if you're in the superfood camp, this is a smart look at making sure you do it right.

How to Build Muscle Faster: This is another solid analysis of why you should incorporate both low weight/high reps and high weight/low reps into your strength routine. There's a specific workout at the bottom -- use it if you like. I'm more interested in the general wisdom.

Run for Your Knees: Another study to add to the pile of evidence that running is actually good for your knees. One caveat: If your knees are already messed up, definitely talk to your doc before going for a run.

Transitioning to Trail Running: If you're getting tired of the same old pavement, you may want to take your runs off road. Here's a good primer on what you need to think about.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Curiosity Killed the Cat -- But Not the Regular Guy

At the beginning of 2015, I wrote the most accurate statement I've ever typed: I've made every mistake there is.

In that post, I covered stuff like not warming up, overtraining and trying to do too much too quickly. But back when I started the blog, I said that I hoped that doing this would help me learn at least as much as it helps other Regular Guys. And one big lesson I've learned: Don't be afraid to try new things.

It's All a Bit Much at First

If you join a gym, all the different machines and other equipment can be overwhelming -- especially if you're new to exercise. There are free weights, Smith machines, squat racks, Nautilus machines of every size and shape, cable-cross machines, Hammer Strength machines, TRX straps, kettlebells, medicine balls, treadmills, ellipticals, stair climbers, exercise bikes, recumbent bikes, row machines... It's enough to make your head spin.

Likewise, if you're just starting to get into serious running, there's long runs, tempo runs, all sorts of track intervals, fartleks, hill repeats, strides. You may also have heard about all sorts of paces -- easy, lactate threshold, VO2 max, all-out sprint... And of course, that doesn't even get into the contentious topic of running form.

I'm not a biker, but I'm sure it's equally confusing to the newcomer. Swimming is much more than just diving into the pool and doing laps. And so forth.

The easy thing to do is simply to find the handful of things that are familiar to you and do those. I think that's why you see so many people on treadmills at the gym -- people know how to do it, and they feel like they've accomplished something when they're done. 

But you're cheating yourself.

The Problem With Sticking to What You Know
In my opinion, a good fitness plan works all of your muscle groups and includes both aerobic and strength training. As we've discussed, you do need to do what works for you. You need to evaluate where you are now, what your goals are and what your interests are, and create a plan that fits. But that doesn't mean you should limit yourself. The issues:
  • If all you do is cardio -- i.e., all aerobic exercise with no strength training -- you're going to hit a plateau quickly. The better your strength -- even if it's sport-specific -- the faster or longer you'll be able to go.
  • Also if you ignore resistance training, you will likely burn fat and lose weight, but you won't have the nice definition that some modest muscle will give you.
  • On the other hand, if all you do is lift, you're also going to hit a plateau, because you will lack the fitness and endurance to hit it really hard. You may hear or read a lot of anti-cardio notions, but this, this, this, this and this give you plenty of evidence that it's essential.
  • But let's say you find two or three pieces of weight equipment you're familiar with. You're still not out of the woods. You need to work all your major muscle groups -- arms, legs, back, chest, shoulders, etc. -- or risk creating a muscle imbalance and getting injured. 
  • Also, if you keep doing the same couple of exercises, your body will adapt, and it will become easier -- too easy, and you'll again hit that plateau. Adding more weight can help, but it's not the complete answer, because, again, strength in some areas and not others is a recipe for injury.

Don't Be Afraid to Try New Stuff
What I've learned in my time at the gym is that most of the equipment is easy enough to figure out. I've also picked up a lot of ideas by watching other people and by reading solid fitness literature. Here are some ideas for how to expand your fitness regimen.

Add Things in Slowly. I have a friend who came up with a great metaphor for information overload: Our brains have only so much bandwidth. You have work, family, home issues, your other interests, and so on. Plus you have only so much time to spend at the gym learning to do new things. So add in new exercises one at a time. Watch other people. Find videos on YouTube. Ask a trainer if you have that opportunity. But first and foremost, learn to do one thing properly before trying to add the next.

Find Resources Online. Just about every discipline has at least one good website -- and usually more.
Keep Your Eyes Open. You can learn a lot just by watching other people at the gym or on the track. I've picked up a number of good exercises simply by observing other people. Just be sure that it's actually a good exercise. If it puts undue strain on a joint or just doesn't feel right, don't do it. Or find out more about it.
  • One important note: Don't steal by watching personal training sessions. Someone's paying good money for a tip you're picking up for free, and someone else is potentially losing your business. If you see something specific you like once in a while, that's OK, but if you make it a habit, you're stealing.
Just Ask. If you're unsure of the proper form on a piece of equipment, you can usually ask a trainer. If you see someone at the gym doing something that looks interesting, wait till he or she is done with a set, then ask about it. Everyone was a noob once, and just about everyone at the gym -- behind the grunts and scowls -- is more than happy to offer a piece of advice.

Don't Be Afraid to Push Yourself. The first time you try something entirely new, it's going to suck. Just accept it. You're asking your systems to do something they aren't accustomed to. Your muscles will be sore. Your lungs will burn. Your heart will race. These are good things, because next time, you'll be able to accomplish more. Finish the exercise.

But Go Easy the First Time. Learn how to do something right before you go all-out.
  • If we're talking about weight equipment, go nice and light. Get the motions down. Once you feel good about using it, you can start pushing. 
  • For track intervals: If you're relatively new to running, you're going to have trouble with 400-meter intervals. You have to know how to pace yourself, and you have to have pretty good aerobic fitness to start with. So go with just a few reps, or scale back to 200-meter intervals. 
  • HIIT is tough, too. You don't have to do every exercise to failure; in fact, unless your aerobic fitness is already in place, you won't get through more than a handful of moves before you're wiped.

Bottom Line: Don't Be Intimidated
If that exercise machine were really that difficult to use, you wouldn't see people on it all the time. If the side plank were really a mystery, it wouldn't be a staple of just about every bodyweight exercise routine out there. If intervals were just for elite runners, we'd need far fewer tracks, and most treadmills wouldn't have those programs.

You can do it.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. We all have, and we all continue to. I recently misread which peg to rest the Smith machine bar on and wound up getting pinned under the weight -- and couldn't get it up a peg. I had to push it up enough to squeeze out and escape. It happens. But those are learning opportunities.

There are so many options out there these days. HIIT, Crossfit, Olympic lifting. Running and biking trails. Treadmills. Everything else at the gym. Yoga. Don't be afraid of what you don't know -- learn! Not only will you learn more about fitness, you'll learn more about you.

And that is a key to Keeping Fit and Living Your Life.

I want to hear about your experiences trying out new fitness routines. What stuff did you learn? How did it benefit you? And what kinds of mistakes did you make along the way? Hit me up in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter!