I knew from the beginning that I definitively needed to get my body in shape before I could do half of what I had listed prior to the challenge.
No matter how simple it may look, it turns out to be a seriously complex task to get fit. Proof is that fitness is a billion dollar industry; it wouldn’t be if everyone were fit and lean, else if it was simple to do so.
I couldn’t make sense of anything in the fitness world. Coming from a geeky I.T. background I believed that there was some kind of hack, cheat codes or algorithm that would get me through this unfortunately not so simple task of getting lean and fit for the job. If nothing new is discovered or put forward as trendy, well guess what, they won’t sell anything. You come to this conclusion after a while, if not then you will soon enough or die fat and poor.
Rule number 1: Stay away from the magazines and bodybuilding websites.
Their only purpose is to sell you junk you don’t really need. Stuffing yourself with pills is not going to get you lean or strong. Most of what is in those pills is rice flour anyway. The rest is marketing. They take a guy that’s trying to monetise his steroids and pose for that company holding the product in his hands, looking sharp and muscly. Now, I’m not saying go get you steroids. That’s not what I say. What I say is the products sold to you in supplement store are mostly junk. The only real effective product for the regular Joe like you and me that’s not spending his life in a gym is protein.
Rule number 2: You are fitness
Don’t lose your precious time shopping for products and gears for the gym. If you have a pair of trainers and good sweat pants or shorts your good to go.
I travelled a lot for work and I didn’t have gyms available to me all the time. So I build myself some good bodyweight routines to keep going while on the move.
A good way to get started is to go back to basics. I remember at first I could barely do ten push-ups. I can line up 100 of them by now. As for sit-ups, it was the same I remember doing 10 crying the last one. At the height of my training program I could do 50 with a plate of 45 lbs. on an inclined bench.
I was recommanded the 100 push-ups website (I’m not affiliated with them it’s just a reference) and ran the initial test. Compared my results against the chart and started from there. They also offer the program as an app available on the apps store if it’s more convenient to you. Some places I’ve been were far from having readily available Internet access, the apps contains the program locally on your phone or pad.
As for body weight training program goes; the options are limited only to your imagination. Tim Ferris also advocates the air squats in the 4 hours body book. Remember to go for quality information, which by the way are not to be found in infomercials. Personally, I didn’t want to waste my time digging the web to find the right information. Every attempt I made to it, I found myself reading two contradictory articles leaving me without answers after hours or reading. There is loads of free quality resources buried under the pile of fitness BS out there, if you have time to dig it in, which I didn’t.
Rule number 3: Have a reasonable target and stick to it
Once you find a program that suits your schedule and your physical abilities stick with it long enough to see results. If the program is 6 weeks, run it for 6 weeks. My weakness with fitness regimen is that I get impatient; the truth is that it takes time before it starts to show.
Also, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself skipping the diet part or not really get into it. The thing is that I love cooking, but I hate to follow recipes. Following a diet that is too strict is bothering me and I tend to give up fairly fast. Another factor is being on the move; back in my middle-eastern missions I had to do with what was available.
Rule number 4: It starts in the kitchen
One factor that is consistent amongst all training programs is that no matter how hard you train if you don’t start with the kitchen; the gym efforts won’t show.
To ease on the confusion found in all that fitness mess I compartmented the main subject matters in 4 boxes.
Box 1: Genetics and Body type
Box 2: Nutrition and Macronutrients
Box 3: Supplementation
Box 4: Workouts
Box 1: Genetics and Body type
There are plenty of theories from which workouts are based from and for the most part they work. One fundamental fact is that the body doesn’t keep what it doesn’t need. The body uses a vast array of sensors to keep going.
Basically, the sugar level goes too high; Insulin is produced to regulate it. Sugar that isn’t used is stored in fat cells. So it goes for a plethora of other ultra-essential hormones. How do you sort out all of this information without losing you mind in the process? Its simple, you don't. The body is going to do it no matter what. All you need to know is sugar is bad. Eating too much is bad.
I wanted to understand the mechanics anyway; so I found myself a trainer, a real trainer, not a gym buddy that pretends to know stuff. I listened carefully to what he had to say. Together we discussed of realistic objectives.
Skim fat and building muscle. Right he said. Everybody wants that. But the generic formulas don’t work the same way on everybody. You are like a mix of Mesomorph and Endomorph.
Which means that you build muscle easily, but you also gain fat easily. You have a problem with sugar and carbohydrates.
- Good to know. Now what?
We had to make some adjustment to my feeding habits. My food intake had to be calibrated to my body type. We would be running a basic program first whilst adjusting the diet. Once we had this right; it would be much easier to achieve the targeted objectives.
Not that I have trust issues, but I wanted to crosscheck the spiel and it turns out to be kind of right. Some genetics allows for better absorption of carbohydrates than other which seems to match body type classifications. Nice to know, but not essential. Box one eliminated from the equation. Unless you want to be a bodybuilder; which is not the purpose of this article, then it may be relevant to you, other than that skip anything that has to do with body classification.
It ws originally created by a someone that wanted to classify body type, nothing more. Looks like the fitness industry got wind of this and try to capitalise on it.
Box 2: Nutrition and Macronutrients
Food is divided in three main macronutrients classification:
- Carbohydrates - read sugar
Fact is your body don’t need carbohydrates. Whilst it has a purpose it’s also kind of a nightmare to manage, in my case anyway, so I decided to rip it off the menu as much as possible. I use sugar only when I need it for recovery after training, the insulin spike helps bringing the nutrients to the muscle for repair.
Trainer: “To get started with the program you will first cut off the starchy food and raise your fat and protein intake to compensate. I would like you to ingest whole protein meat and fish such as chicken, turkey, trout and salmon.” He explained: “Digesting protein requires about 30% of the energy it’ll give you in return, which is good if you’re looking at burning fat.” As for the meal frequency I’d had to work around. I was working in Afghanistan at the time, and feeding at the dining facilities (D-FAC), which had complete meals but sometimes limited choices. It wasn’t really easy to cook your own food and procuring locally could be a logistical and security nightmare.
Rule number 5 : Stay away from the junk.
Read the labels if you're not sure. Carbohydrate is another way to say sugar. The lower the better.
I got accustomed to black coffee (sugar-free). I drink more than a gallon of water a day and eat green vegetables like broccoli and asparagus. That is my diet guideline for years now.
BOX 3 Supplementation
How often was I recommended to drink shakes of all nature, snake oil and potions? Too often.
There is a point where dietary protein won’t be enough for you to progress. Buy protein powder without the added pixie dust. Whey or Casein is what you want to buy. The more magic added to the product is mostly just another way to raise the prices. Stay basic. Unless you are the Hulk you won’t see much of a difference anyway. Or you'll get bigger, and by bigger, and by that I mean fat.
Box 4 Workouts
I was given a list of routines to be performing at the gym. They were very simple movements. Stuff you would see Arnold do back in the days. Squats, Rows, Press.
I was the only guy in the gym that was pumping slowly. Observing the others I quickly realised that most of them were lifting heavy but in fact they were also bouncing the weights off their chest under the bench press barbell and swinging the dumbbells twisting their entire body. Just a few guys were doing old school and deliberate movements.
The results started to show after a week already. Exercising in itself was a good start. It feels good. I found that going to the gym is liberating. You come out exhausted but also accomplished. You’ve done something good. It’s a positive conditioning of sort.
The diet was kicking in but I had a hard time avoiding carbs; when I wouldn’t ingest any carbs at all I would be super tired and lose patience with simple things that wouldn’t have got me edgy that much normally.
I needed to find balance with my food. Consuming carbohydrates at the right moment helped with my mood and average energy level. With this bit positively adjusted. I could carry on to the next level.
The adjustment to the diet included whole grain rice and cheeses, some fruits and more chicken and fish.
“Abs starts to show at 12% body fat on men” he said. “Your abs are showing” They were showing in some ways but not as cut as the models you see in the magazines and all.
The myth about abs is true; abs are made in the kitchen. If you want to time your meals and weight your food and count your calories intake then you’ll get abs.
My goal wasn’t abs. it was fit, which I managed to reach. This training was tailored made for me, adjusted to accommodate my work schedules and food availability.
The routines were still slow repletion but this time I combined different muscle parts. I added one little feature to the mix. At the END of every workout I was to be going on the treadmill for about 30 minutes. At the end? Yes at the end.
That is so anti-trend that I doubted why the end? Fair enough the answer was coming, but not until our next appointment.
Two weeks into the program all went well, but the damn running at the end of my workouts. I was pushing myself so much that I had no juice left in me to run, sometimes even not enough to walk back to my room. So I skipped it.
Right, when I met with "the Trainer" he told me. “You’ve been skipping the treadmill part didn’t you? - Damn, He spies on me or what? He could tell. - the last few weeks were supposed to shove off a few more pounds of fat. So I figured you either been skipping the treadmill or you stuffed on cake.” He said.
The explanation : When you workout you deplete the glycogen reserves in your muscles. Your muscle needs this to be able to perform correctly. The glycogen reserves are rapidly available glucose energy for the muscles to use. At the end of your workout you have very little left and doing cardio at the end of your workout taps straight into the fat cells. In short: When you do cardio at the end of your resistance training you burn more fat and for longer. Amazing! So I tried it. It’s one thing to be motivated when you can see results. It’s something else when you can’t actually feel any difference. Especially when your other more decisional reserve has depleted: willpower.
To conclude on fitness, I personally adhere to Duffy Gaver motto pertaining to fitness: “eat amazing, train amazing and sleep amazing”. He mentioned in an interview about the training plan he had build to train the Avengers: “I don’t need to tell you that. You know there’s a difference between watching TV and going for a jog. If you keep making donut and TV choices, guess what you’re going to look like? If you keep making chicken breast and jog choices, guess what you’re going to look like?”