Bodybuilding: Expectations vs Realities

This may come as a shock to some, but from the the moment a guy first picks up a weight, usually sometime in high school, he expects to get bodybuilder huge no matter how thin or heavy he might be. He might say that he is only working out for sports or to get “toned,” whatever that means, but my personal experience is otherwise. I’ve actually heard men say that they workout but that they don’t want to get too big – as if that was a possibility. I mean, most men will get bigger and stronger from lifting weights but getting “big” takes 1) genetics, which determine muscle shape, height, frame size, and a myriad of other physical characteristics – good and bad, 2) dedication and commitment to a routine, 3) proper nutrition (possibly the most important factor), 4) time, and if you really want to get “too big” most likely you’ll need 5) drugs (the illegal kind, not to be confused with supplements. By the way, I do not advocate the former and caution you to be careful with the latter). I could add another factor which is age. However, I believe that you can improve regardless of age. It might be harder to get going, you won’t recover quite as quickly and you may have to be more careful with your joints, but you can and will improve no matter how old or young you are.

Some of this expectation is natural, part of the male hubris if you will, but some of it is created from the sheer number of examples out there on social and traditional media. For example, I can remember a time when men could be in movies and television without having a six pack. And you don’t have to look far on social media to find all sorts of examples of guys (and gals) who are exceptionally well built. At least under the proper bathroom or locker room lighting.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t workout because you will never look the way you want too? Of course not. But most of us might want to consider setting goals that are more in line with our body types.

Take me for example. If you’ve read my previous blogs it should be no surprise that one of my goals from working out was always to build big, peaked biceps. However, the reality is that this will never happen for me. Regardless of how big (17.5 inches at one point) or small (about 11 inches) my arms are, my biceps always have a more rounded football like shape. In fact, until someone sees my triceps – my most commented on muscle – my arms don’t look that muscular.

Conversely, someone like my brother-in-law gets comments on the size of his arms – even when they are relatively small (for him at least) – because the shape of his bicep is more peaked and pronounced. Combine this with a genetic propensity to build his arms quickly – compared to most men – and you have someone who goes through sleeves with regularity. However, what he has in biceps he lacks in triceps. Sure they’re big, but not as pronounced as mine.

My unobtainable biceps goal as demonstrated by Peter K. Vaughn (find him on Instagram @peter.kv or @pkv.personaltraining).

Genetics determines muscle shape and the ability to build muscle. This doesn’t mean that someone with ordinary genetics can’t build a good looking body. But it’s going to take effort and commitment and frankly you may never look the way you want to look. Despite whatever artificial assistance Arnold had he was in reality a genetic freak (I don’t mean that in a mean way). Even at a young age he was better built than most adult men. His potential was enormous from the start.

My reality. Same size at Peter’s arm above, but due to a different shape and higher amount of body fat not nearly as impressive.

Regardless of genetics if you don’t put in the work and the nutrition, you won’t make outstanding progress as evidenced by this photo of my arm from 2017. A big arm, but soft. Below is a more recent picture of my arm after losing some weight. Shape is the same, but definition is better so the arm at a smaller size actually looks larger.

Me just before my recent surgery. My arm is smaller but better defined. Still no peak though due to the positioning of my muscle insertions and overall shape of the muscle belly.

So given that genetics will partly determine your ultimate results what can you expect if you put the work in? Frankly, quite a bit.

First off, regardless of how you end up looking you will feel better, move better and, barring an underlying medical condition of some kind, be healthier in general.

Even with an underlying health condition chances are you’ll do better with regular exercise than without (always check with your doctor before starting any program). For example, my friend Peter K. Vaughn like me suffers from Crohn’s. But despite multiple setbacks due to the disease he has the drive and stamina to keep making the best of what God gave him. Somewhat thin and lanky by nature he has overcome this to build a solid physique. The proof is in the picture below.

As you can see, he makes tremendous progress between setbacks. His biceps respond the fastest to training, but thanks to his consistency, commitment to proper nutrition, and the wonder of muscle memory, he bounces back quickly.

Even if you have great overall genetics to start with, it still takes time and effort to reach your full potential. Though progress can be noted in a few weeks, real change takes months and often years. For example Alexander Miles below.

Photo courtesy of Alexander Miles on Instagram @milesfitness. His website is
https://myfit-strategy.com/ .

Even as a teen you can see the potential in his physique based on his well defined delts and arms. However, he starts out pretty thin without much chest development or the classic V shape. Today however, you would not know that he was once a skinny teen. By working out regularly, and hard, staying focused on nutrition he’s been able to maximize his physique over a period of years.

Even guys with more average builds to start with can vastly improve their physiques and strength. For example, I used to work with a young man, Aymeric Van De Hove, pictured below, who went from a typical thin teen to a very well built man in less than five years. You can see some of his basic muscle shape in the 2010 photo, but no real hint of the physique that he would ultimately build over the next five years. With hard work and dedication he took what most experts might call an average physique and built something impressive and distinctly above average. Aymeric is also blessed with a very symmetrical physique. Note how his abs line up perfectly with each other. This is more rare than you might think and a product of genetics which cannot be changed regardless of how many crunches you do.

One last observation, “bro science” will tell you that tall men have a harder time putting on muscle than shorter men (think Basketball players versus gymnasts) but in my experience this isn’t necessarily true. I know some tall men who have an impressive amount of muscle on their frames and some skinny short guys. Some of the difference is just a matter of perspective. A 6 foot man with 16 inch arms will look smaller than a 5 foot 5 inch man with the same size arms. But, they actually have the same amount of muscle. And the taller man often has a larger frame and ultimately can put on more muscle than the shorter guy. In any case, both tall and shorter men can build a significant amount of muscle. In my opinion, you are more likely to be limited by the size and width of your frame.

Your height is no barrier to building muscle. Here’s Caleb Carr (@calebcarrfitness on Instagram) who is 5’5″ inches tall. Five years ago he was a lean runner with fairly wide shoulders, note the muscle definition in the before picgture. Already he was showing the potential for growth. Today he’s the same height and 75 pounds heavier (about 205). He’s clearly made the most of his great potential through heavy lifting and proper nutrition.
Likewise, tall men can build muscle too. Here’s me with Davy Barnes at the Arnold a few years ago. Davy, a recent contestant on the Titan Games (@davymichael on Instagram), stands 6’3″ and started working out when he was about 150 pounds. In this picture he weighed about 250 which is not his biggest. Currently, he carries 270 pounds on a relatively wide frame.

So to sum up, there are many factors that go into determining how far you can take your physique. I’ve only discussed a few here and most can be overcome for the most part. But the main takeaway is that regardless of the body nature gives you, you can build a better looking and healthier body. You need to put in the work, stay true to good nutrition, stay consistent in your workouts, and change your lifestyle to make meaningful change. The change will take time as there is no magic pill – but you can do it! Just don’t expect biceps like Arnold. Build the best body you can build, don’t be like me and keep comparing yourself to others or judging your progress by their progress.

We all have different metabolism’s and progress at our own rate. Keep striving to be the best you can be and you’ll be a happy camper indeed.

Onward!

Note: this blog is written from a male perspective because I’m a guy. Motivations and expectations are likely different for women. Just saying. Also, as always, no matter how motivated you feel after reading this blog – and I hope you feel at least a little motivated – always check with your favorite health care provider before starting a new exercise routine.

Fitness Quest: The Consequence of Measuring Muscle Mass

So, in my constant quest for greater fitness I thought it might be fun to engage a couple friends in a challenge to see who could lose the most body fat in the next few months (by the start of spring).  I decided that I should switch out my trusty Tanita scale that I’ve been using for some years with a Taylor scale that I’ve also been using on and off (to paraphrase that old saying: a man with one scale knows how much he weighs, a man with two is never sure). The reason being because though both scales measure body fat percentage – and are pretty close in their measurement – the Taylor scale has a few more

Scales
The Tanita and Taylor scales – both good

features including a calculation of hydration and muscle mass, all of which are uploadable into an app for easy tracking. For the challenge we have decided to use waist/hip ratio as our measurement tool, but I thought I’d follow my progress on the scales, too. Since I do weigh myself everyday anyway.

The “new” scale works nicely and as I said the body fat percentage corroborates with the other scale. But, today I took note of the other measurements. Fat mass was where I expected at about 25% (needs to be under 20), body water at 59% – a little dehydrated which isn’t surprising since my colon isn’t there absorbing water anymore since my ileostomy – and my muscle mass was at just over 30%. Now, you’ll notice that these percentages added together total more than 100%. I haven’t found it in the documentation yet, but I suspect that the body water figure is independent of the other two and is calculated off the remaining body mass (organs and skeleton). So, based on these readings my body is a little over half fat and muscle. So far so good right?

Well, I then wondered how my muscle mass compared with the average guy – you know, because we guys are all about measurements and comparisons with other men (to prove we’re better). Since I’ve been working out I’ve always assumed that I had more muscle

buff dave
Me during my “glory” days

mass than most men. I know that my arms are larger, even now in their “depleted” state (a little over 15″ in circumference compared to the average untrained American male who is around 11″) they do flex and do not jiggle when I move them. I once benched 350 pounds and still am capable (I think) of a one time max of more than my bodyweight. Good for anyone, great for a man of my “advanced” years. Plus, you know, I have done squats in the past, too keeping my lower body pretty fit – even with too much fat around the hips (you should see the definition in my “marching band” calves).

So off to Google I go and search for “how much muscle does the average man have” and imagine my surprise to find out that according to my scale I not only have less muscle than the average man (about 60 pounds compared to livestrong.com’s average of 72 pounds).  I thought, “okay, but surely my percentage is higher.” Nope…

muscle-mass-percentage-chart

Not only am I low for the average man, I’m low for a man my age and older! How is this possible? I was only in the hospital for a week and recovery for six weeks. Can muscle mass be lost that quickly?

Now, I did come out of the hospital 20 pounds lighter than I went in. This would equate to a loss of about 2 pounds a day for my 10 day stay, but most of the weight loss was early. I never figured out why it was so much, as I doubt that a meter of intestine (the full length of my ileum) weighs that much since it’s essentially a hollow tube of muscle and skin. Maybe it was because of all the stuff that was leaking into my abdomen was no longer there, a lot probably water weight, and maybe an incidental “liposuction” when they cut through the fat and muscle to get to my innards. I just didn’t know. However, I felt that when I cam out that my chest and shoulders had disappeared on me. Could I

Me in hospital
Me shortly after surgery in August 2018

really have lost that much muscle that quickly? Or is my scale wrong. Did one operation undo 30 years of weightlifting and bodybuilding?

I think it will be interesting to see what happens over the course of the next few weeks and months as I continue into my workout routine. I will admit that I wasn’t doing a lot prior to the operation but I was lifting twice a week and getting in some cardio. Plus, there was the cardio rehab I had just finished earlier in the late spring. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing, but we all know that as we get older we don’t bounce back as quickly as we did before.

In fact, most studies indicate that as we age we lose a significant amount of muscle with some, if I recall correctly, suggesting men lose as much as 10% of their muscle mass for each decade after 40 (or earlier). Most studies also suggest that this loss is as much due to inactivity as anything as we tend to move less as we get older and that working out becomes less of a priority when family and career get involved (thus the rise of the so-called “Dad Bod” someone with some muscle on them but it’s covered in a layer of fat).

However, there are also studies that suggest that this muscle loss can be slowed if not completely reversed. That, contrary to popular belief, even people in their eighties and nineties can gain muscle. Maybe not as fast as in our youth, but gains can be made. In fact, I feel that I was at my strongest in my mid to late forties. Not necessarily my fittest, just my strongest.

Which bring ups an interesting tangent. I had a conversation recently with a young man who I’ve befriended at work. He’s a bodybuilder (though I don’t think he would consider himself one since he lifts primarily for “fun,” but I’ve seen his before pictures and he’s clearly a bodybuilder) and he asked me an interesting question: “do you know how men keep getting stronger as they get older?” I replied that I had noticed the same thing myself, stating that many bodybuilders seem to hit their prime in their thirties and how I felt I gained strength well into my forties. But he then said, “no, do you know HOW men keep getting stronger?” and I indicated that I wasn’t sure, perhaps the body doesn’t actually fully mature until a man is in his twenties or later.

Now, I think I can answer that question a little better. Men who keep getting stronger as they age also don’t give up. They stay focused on being a little better each day, at lifting a little more, running a litter farther.

Basically, men get stronger as they age because they think they can.

I think that I can, too. The best is yet to come.

Onward.

Fitness Quest: Memories as Motivation

So, the other day I was in a bit of a funk. Unusual for me as I’m normally pretty chipper these days (ha – I make myself giggle), but like everyone else I can get a good case of the “woe is me” and “life stinks” going on. This particular case was about the usual these days: “why can’t I lift this (insert heavy object name here)? I could last year. Easily!” or “can’t I bench more than that?” or “why does it hurt when I bend?” or my perennial favorite, “how come my shirt sleeves seem to have so much room in them?” (sleeve gapitis – it’s a real thing, Google it. Seriously.) All in all, I had a serious lack of motivation and started looking back to the “good old days” through pictures and social media posts.

What I found depressed me further. Here’s me goofing off after trying to climb one of Colorado’s 14,000 footers:

colorado

Here I am running a 5K:

rose run

Here I am looking possibly as buff as I ever have:

buff dave

Here I am about to go surfing for gosh sake:

surfing

And the coup de grĂ¢ce, here’s the weight I was benching just a year ago. 255 for reps and sets:

255

All the makings of a good sob fest and longing for the glory years. Are they gone? Am I a has been? Has age finally caught up with me? Questions I’m sure most of us have asked ourselves and if you haven’t, you will.

But, you know what? I decided instead of wallowing in self-pity that I was going to use these images to motivate me.

My lungs and legs are still good. I can climb mountains. Maybe not summit, but I didn’t do that before anyway. I was climbing in Idaho just this past summer (well after my heart rehab).

I can still run a 5K and did just this past July. I bet I can beat my time next year!

I’m increasing weight in my bench each week. I can keep going and bench even more than I did a year ago!

And as far as looking buff – well, modesty prevents me from saying so judge for yourself:

dave gym (2)

Surfing? Sorry, that was a one and done! Fun, but there are sharks out in the ocean.

The best is yet to come.

Onward!

Why We Lift: The Psychology of Working Out

So as some of you may know, if you read my other blogs such as Talking to Strangers, that for some time now I’ve been working on breaking through my introverted nature and have tried to talk to someone new each day. Usually a simple smile and a quick hello, but many times actual conversations. Over the years I’ve met a lot of interesting people this way and discussed many things. Because of my interest in fitness more than a fair share of these conversations involved working out, nutrition, and the like. I’ve talked about working out with several people who are experts in their chosen sport and/or activity: triathletes, marathon runners, bodybuilders, surfers, Division I football players (okay, one),  Division I softball players (helps when your niece is one), casual lifters,

adventure athlete athletic daylight
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

mountain climbers, rock climbers, and a rugby player (who, by the way, was nothing like the stereotypical Rugby guy. He was friendly, personable – and I later learned through social media has a great sense of humor – and was not only well muscled but well proportioned. More like a physique model or competitor, not the burly “Bluto” type usually associated with the sport). Most of these people, started exercising because they participated in a sport in high school or wanted to prove something to themselves – the latter being especially true of the marathoners and triathletes.

But, there is a subset who work out – and by working out I mean lift weights – for a wide variety of reasons. Because of my own interest in weight lifting I want to focus on these men. Why the men? Well, one reason is that despite my reaction when seeing a mouse scurry across the room I am a man. The second is that from my experience very few women lift weights. Which is a shame because the benefits of lifting weights is well

man lifting barbell
Photo by Isabella Mendes on Pexels.com

documented for both men and women. As high school or college athletes, many women have lifted, but for some reason later in life they stop (as do most men I suppose). Some are afraid of looking like Schwarzenegger I suppose, which isn’t going to happen without chemical assistance and even if it does wide shoulders are making a comeback in women’s wear. Or, just as likely, their focus shifts to losing weight and running becomes the activity of choice.

So, why do guys start lifting and/or keep lifting long after their high school football days? My conversations reveal many reasons:

  1. He started lifting for a sport and discovered that he liked it more than the sport he was originally training for.
  2. He wanted to gain weight to avoid being bullied and/or intimidated by other guys.
  3. He wanted to be bigger and stronger than his older brother (a surprising number of men fall into this group).
  4. He started lifting with his older brother, father or another male member of the family and got hooked on both the weightlifting and camaraderie.
  5. His younger brother started lifting and he didn’t want him to get bigger and stronger than he was.
  6. He wanted to just better when he took his shirt off and have a reason to flex.
  7. He saw a muscular man as a kid and was impressed enough to want to look like that when he grew up (either in person or in a comic book or on television, etc.)
  8. He was a big kid and found that he liked getting bigger and staying stronger than his peers.

You’ll notice that among all the above reasons the classic, “to get the girl” doesn’t make the list. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone who started lifting to attract girls! Impress other guys, you bet, but not women. It seems to me that to most men that attracting the attention of the ladies is a side benefit of looking better – if that’s his goal to start with.

affection blur close up couple
Photo by Rosie Ann on Pexels.com

Personally, I fall mostly into group 7, fell a bit into number 4 when my dad bought a weight set, and now just have gotten hooked on being stronger, bigger, and the “pump.” Obviously, though I’ve had superficial desire and have gotten stronger over the years (until my surgery this summer) I haven’t had the discipline to achieve the look of a bodybuilder. Darn diet and flat bicep peak!

By the way, and if you spend anytime on social media I think you’ll agree with me on this, there seems to be a whole new group who workout just to show off to strangers (a subset of group 6). Guys who don’t participate in sports but can’t wait to flex in front of a camera to try and gain followers on Instagram. Many seem to fancy themselves models, some are just trying to build their personal training business, but others just seem to like it when people like their photos and follow them. I’m guilty of following quite a few of these guys myself because of my habit of following back anyone who follows me. In fact, one of my favorite activities on Instagram is to use new hashtags just to see who starts to

man wearing gray tank top
Photo by mahmood sufiyan on Pexels.com

follow me. Use hashtags like #bodybuilding #weightlifting #exercise and you’ll get a dozen new likes and several more followers. Some are trying to sell their personal training packages, but most just seem to want followers. I know that some are hoping to get rich by monetizing their Instagram account and have discovered that flexing their biceps gets them followers and likes, but I can’t believe it’s true of every guy whose posed in front of his bathroom mirror.

To be fair, I might be a little harsh – if not hypocritical – on my description of this group. After all, there’s a certain amount of vanity and narcissism in participating on social media to begin with isn’t there? I mean does anyone really care what we had for dinner or how often we workout? But I think I’m right even if it’s a fine line between the guy who is genuinely tracking his progress and motivating himself and others versus the guy trolling for “likes” and fans. The former usually has before pictures and candid shots doing other things. The latter is never seen without the proper lighting and would never admit that he was once the proverbial 98 pound weakling (maybe he never was?). But, as so often I do, I digress.

Anyway, these are my observations. Am I right about these categories or way off base? Why do you workout? I’d love to hear from folks (at least those of you who read through the whole thing).

Onward!

Crohn’s Update: It Finally Happened – Surgery!

“Mr. Wahr, Mr. Wahr? Do you know what’s happening?” the young med student who just woke me at 4:00 A.M. asked me.

“I think so,” I replied. I had come in to the University of Michigan Hospital less than 24 hours earlier with abdominal pains that didn’t feel like a normal Crohn’s attack. Something was off so after much hemming and hawing I finally decided that given my heart history I really couldn’t take the chance that something was really wrong. Especially since the pains had started the day before and weren’t lessening as was the usual pattern with my Crohn’s, “but why don’t you tell me.”

She looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, “you’re going in for emergency surgery. A surgeon will be in shortly to explain.”  Surgery? I had certainly anticipated this. In the Emergency Department they had determined that I had what they called a “micro fissure” of the fistula in my ileum. But, at least at that time, they didn’t think I needed surgery within 12 hours. So I had been moved to a room for observation.

Almost as soon as she finished her sentence a young man appeared at my bedside – why are all doctors so young now? –  in a polite, but firm tone he said, “Mr. Wahr, I’m sorry but you need to sign some forms to authorize surgery. Here, here, and here.”

“Surgery?” I asked.

“Yes, we can’t get your fever under control. Our only choice is to go in and remove the cause of the infection. Otherwise your prognosis…we’ll it isn’t good,” he said in a quiet, somber tone. I understood what he was telling me and started signing the forms.

“I need to tell you of all the possibilities of having this surgery,” and he listed off the usual complications and issues and then added, “and you may end up with a stoma.” By this time another surgeon had joined the growing group at my bedside. She seemed to be in charge.

“May end up with a stoma?” I asked, “how likely is that?” The new surgeon answered, ” well, we never go in planning to create a stoma, but until we go in I can’t say for sure. They’s be coming to move you to surgery in a few minutes.”

The doctors disappeared and my nurse appeared to start prepping me for moving to pre-op. As she moved my IV bags the transport team came in. “We’re going to take you down to surgery now,” the nurse said. I grabbed my phone and sent a quick text to my brother. If something happened during surgery, I wanted someone in my family to know what happened while they slept.

In pre-op I was greeted by even more medical staff. One of the anesthesiologists started to ask me a slew of questions, a woman who identified herself as a nurse held my hand and spoke to me in a comforting manner, then I heard doors open, multiple footsteps and could feel the group around me stiffen a little.

“Mr. Wahr, I’m the faculty surgeon overseeing your operation. Here’s what’s happening. The fissure you have is worse than we thought. The contents of your bowels are emptying into your abdominal cavity, causing infection. If we don’t go in and stop this, we won’t be able to bring the infection under control. The outcome will not be positive. Do you understand?” I nodded that I did. “We’ll remove the damaged areas of your intestine and when you wake up you will have a stoma. Do you know what this is?”

“Yes,” I replied, “but it sounds better than the alternative.”

“It is,” the surgeon replied. “You’ll be going into surgery now.” And with that they began to wheel me to the operating room. I noticed the time on a clock. It was not even 5:00 A.M. They were not wasting any time which told me all I needed to know about the seriousness of my situation.

A quick trip down the hall, during which I mostly observed the ceiling, and we were in the operating room. A white, sterile looking space filled with equipment and a woman sitting in the corner covered with a blanket around her shoulders. Part of the anesthesiology team perhaps? I’ll never know. A quick transfer from my bed to the “table” and the voice of the anesthesiologists who spoke to me earlier. “Are we ready? Okay, here we go.” A mask was put on my face and just as I was wondering if this was it and would I ever wake up, everything went black.

Next thing I knew, I heard a disembodied voice asking me questions, “Mr. Wahr, can you tell me where you are?”

“U of M Hospital, I’m having surgery.”

“Very good, everything went well. You’re going to a room now.”

I continued to drift in and out of consciousness for an unknown amount of time. It was about 10:00 A.M. when I finally seemed to actually wake up. I said a silent prayer thanking God for letting me wake up and yet another doctor came into my room. This, I would later learn, was the “attending” doctor for the intensive care unit I was in.

“Mr. Wahr? How are you doing?” he asked.

“I guess fine. Considering.”

“Yes, I understand. The good news is that the surgery went well. You do have a stoma, but the infection and fever are gone and you should make a full recovery. You were lucky,” he paused to consider his words carefully, “this was the kind of thing that people die from.”

“So I hear.”

He went on to tell me a little more about the surgery and that the surgeon would be in later to check on me (as he did each day I was at the hospital). He then left me with the nurse so I could settle in.

Thus begins my newest adventure with Crohn’s. In a way I always suspected that this day was in my future – yet it was still a surprise when it happened. Many Crohn’s patients end up in surgery and with stomas. I’ve managed to avoid it for more than 30 years so in that sense I’ve been fortunate. And there is the possibility that in 6 months or so, presuming that the Crohn’s is under control, that I could be “hooked back up” so that my colon can be useful again. So, all in all, I’m handling the situation pretty well.

My current concerns while I recuperate and adjust to life with an appliance attached to my side (which does get changed every three to four days): 1) dehydration – most of the water for the body is absorbed by the colon. It will take time for my small intestine to realize it needs to pick up the slack; 2) weight loss – even though my appetite is good, food is still passing through my intestine too quickly. As a result, I’ve been slowly losing weight (almost a pound a day). Something a lot of folks dream of, but be careful what you wish for. When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s I dropped down to about 140 pounds from my then previous weight of 180 pounds before being stabilized. I sure don’t want to be that thin again. Plus, all the weight seems to be disappearing from my chest and shoulders and thighs. Not my belly where I really don’t need it. Muscle loss is certain at this point. There goes the last 30 years of training down the drain; 3) infection, which I’ve avoided so far, always a risk after surgery but especially for someone with a weakened immune system; 4) controlling the Crohn’s. My past medical regimen didn’t prevent the fissure which is an indication that the treatments weren’t working. The interesting thing now is that my Crohn’s has historically been localized to the ileum. Now that my ileum, about a meter’s worth of small intestine, is gone the question is will my Crohn’s flare up somewhere else?

That’s it in a nutshell. I’m managing to deal with the appliance pretty well so far with only a couple mishaps (one in the doctor’s office) and I’m looking forward to returning to work soon.

Of course, I’ll keep blogging about my experience in the hopes of helping someone else with the same or similar situation. There’s always hope folks and we are all in this together.

On a side note, I had an interesting experience that was repeated with three nurses as they prepared to give me an injection in the back of my arm. It went something like this:

“Left or right arm?” the nurse asks.

“Doesn’t matter. Left.” I reply.

“Okay,” takes my arm to prepare the injection site. Stops and says, “oh, I’m not sure what this is. Is there a tumor in your arm? Or is that your tricep?”

“I hope it’s my tricep.”

“Yes, I guess it is. Not used to seeing a tricep like this. Very impressive.”

Now, I can’t be sure if the comment – from three different nurses – means I have an oddly shaped tricep or if they just don’t expect a relatively well developed tricep on a…ahem…mature man (though I think it’s looking pretty puny right now). I’ll go with the latter as it makes me feel better about myself. You have to look for the positive in every situation after all.

Onward!

Not a Tumor

Fitness Quest: Goals for 2018

In the time honored tradition of setting resolutions (aka goals) for the New Year, I’ve reviewed my fitness goals from 2017 and made some adjustments for the new knowledge regarding my heart health (see my earlier post here regarding details if you’re curious). In the interest of keeping myself accountable, here they are:

1. Fast food no more than once a week. Obviously heart health is now, and probably should always have been, my number one concern. Crohn’s is second. Mediterranean is my mantra for the year and means less reliance on “convenience” and more self sufficient eating and disciplined meal prep. Both of my major health conditions – and probably others I’m not fully aware of – will benefit by putting an emphasis on vegetables and fish in my diet. I’ve already started to make the adjustments and am actually looking forward to a more varied diet. 
2. Increase cardio. Back to 10,000 steps everyday – minimum. Even if it means walking around the living room at night. I know that 10,000 is just a number, but it is a sign that I’m moving through the day. Pending approval from my cardiologist, I’ll be spending more time on treadmills and bikes this winter and still looking forward to running the occasional 5K.
3. Goal bodyfat percentage of 15%. I can’t sugar coat it. I’m fat and not getting thinner. It doesn’t matter how much muscle I have if it’s hampered by just carrying my own extra bulk. 15% seems to be a good ideal for a man in his late fifties. I may never actually see my abs, but I plan to at least feel them!
4. Keep strength up – 250 for 10 reps on bench. Again, pending my cardiologists approval as it’s possible that heavy lifting might be off the table for me. Of course, if I’m strong enough 250 won’t seem like heavy lifting, will it?
5. Put size back on the bis. Hey, I have to have at least on vanity goal, right? With the lower bodyfat my historic goal of 18 inches may not be possible (maybe with a pump). But if I don’t lose size my arms might at least look like 18 inchers if they’re lean enough. 

These are written down and in my wallet as a reminder to me everyday.

I hope you all have a happy, healthy, and productive 2018.

Onward!

2018 Goals

Fitness Quest: October 2017 and Olympic Goals

A little late on my update for last month – but it’s been a busy week so this update will flow into the first part of November as well:

Crohn’s Update: things are going very well with my Crohn’s. I’ve had only one or two days where I got off to a slow start do to the disease. I believe that being regular with my vitamin regimen, staying active as possible, keeping up with my weight training, and watching my diet are all helping. If I feel better over all, my Crohn’s stays quiet.

Workouts: progress continues! I’m gaining strength, slowly but surely, and stamina. My arms are a little larger, my chest is larger, my shoulders more defined, my waist is shrinking, and my weight is decreasing.

I did spend the first week of November in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor Resort no less (one of America’s true luxury resorts) at a business conference (NACAS – where I was inducted as the board President). Though I suffered early on a brief attack of altitude sickness, several gallons of water and many deep breaths later I was feeling positively energized in the thin mountain air. So good that by the end of my stay I was lifting weights in the fitness center each night – including 250 on the bench for three reps. Twenty five more pounds than at home – it was on a machine though so it didn’t require as much use of the stabilizing muscles as a “true” bench press. Still felt good though!

Cardio: most of the month was ho-hum in this area. Being in a play (mentioned in the last post) did slow me down somewhat. However, one the play was finished I was able to step things back up so to speak. Also, as I mentioned above,  I took a trip to Colorado Springs. Nothing like a stay in the thin mountain air, hikes up a couple of hills (and 224 steps to the top of Seven Falls and another 185 to the Eagles Landing) and walking all over a spread out resort (the Broadmoor) and conference center to get those steps in!

Nutrition: I’m doing pretty well in this department. I hit my protein goals most days and stay below my carb goals. Fats, still an issue, but getting better. I’m finding some supplementation with protein drinks is really helping. I’m making my own smoothies starting this week as well. Now that my weight is down, I’m considering adding a few more calories per day to see if I can spur some additional muscle growth without adding fat. A challenge for anyone – let alone a middle age man with a history of being fat prone. But, if you don’t experiment you don’t learn, right?

Other Cool Things this Month: the biggest cool think I did this month was visit the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as part of the aforementioned conference. Here I got to meet several Olympic and Paralympic athletes and I’ll post more about that later. But what a thrill it was to participate in an Olympic Flame lighting ceremony and meet so many athletes. If I needed any more motivation to keep working out, I got it that night. I may never have the body of a gymnast – the shoulders and biceps on those guys – but I can keep pushing my own personal limits.

And so can you.

Onward!

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Olympic gymnast Sam Mikulak having fun with a fan.

Fitness Quest: Mental Prep, Attitude, and Success

A friend of mine is a runner. Not a casual jogger but a real honest to goodness “why walk when you can run” distance runner. If there’s a race, he’s done it. Five Kilometers, 10K, 15K, half-marathon, full-marathon – you name it. But, though he’s put more miles on his shoes than most of us put on our cars, he told me that occasionally he gets negative comments while running. Here he is, working each day to better himself, and some loudmouth feels that it’s his right to pull up beside him and, for want of a better term, taunt him. Things like “run, fat boy” or worse and though he doesn’t have the typical marathoners build, he isn’t fat.

But, instead of letting himself get down over these comments though he keeps running, improving his times, his health, and his outlook on life. This is why he inspires me and kept me going through some of my own struggles (especially the running kind).

His experience though got me to thinking about all the comments I’ve heard or have been made to me about my working out and/or about my physique. These fall into two categories, positive and negative. Here are those I can recall:

Positive: 

  • I can’t lift that much weight (former workout partner after I completed my set)!
  • Your arms are bigger than his (comparing me to someone I thought was bigger).
  • How did you move that?
  • Your inspiring.
  • How do I get calves like yours?
  • You underestimate the size of your triceps.
  • Wow, you’re hard (mind out of the gutter – this was after she touched my forearm)!
  • Looks sort of like the Mississippi and it’s tributaries (comment from a technician about to draw blood from my arm).
  • You’ve been working out.  Your arms just blew up like…(makes a hand motion to indicate the size of a basketball).
  • He’s definitely getting bigger (a guy talking to my “trainer” about the workout I was using).
  • You motivate me to keep working out.

Negative: 

  • You’re fat.
  • You don’t have muscle tone.
  • Are you doing this to yourself (when my Crohn’s was at it’s worst and I weighed about 135 pounds)?

Now, notice that the positive comments I recall from over the years far outnumber the negative.

But guess which ones I focus on more? Right, the negative.

I think, unfortunately, it is in our nature to focus on the negative things that people say about us because deep down we want everyone to like us. So any negative thing is magnified. Sometimes to the point of wearing us down and causing us to stop looking at all the good things we’ve done and, frankly, just give up.

How much further in our fitness goals – or any goals for that matter – would we all be if we just focused on our progress, looked back at how far we’ve come, and kept going?

Try focusing on the positive things someone says about you for a day and see how you feel. Then try two days, then three, etc.

The world is full of jerks waiting to tear us down. Be determined to be someone who builds themselves and others up.

Onward!

Fitness Quest: The Road Less Traveled

It should not come as a shock to anyone who’s ever known or paid attention to me (or has read this blog) that I’ve had a long time interest in health, fitness, bodybuilding, etc. This interest goes back quite a ways to my first flirtations with the gym and working out in high school, through a more serious attempt during college, up to the current day. Yet, during all this time, even when I was at my strongest and curling more than 100 pounds and benching almost 1.5 times my body weight (when I weighed close to 240) I don’t think there was ever a time you would have called me muscular. Sure, I had big arms and a big chest but I also had (have?) a big butt and big gut to go along with them. In my quest for size and strength I only gave lip service to fat loss. So even though I could bench more than 300 pounds (which is why I’m glad I write down my workouts – it’s hard to believe that I was once capable of this) I couldn’t run around the block without the risk of heart attack. Though my arms taped at just over 17.5 inches in circumference when flexed (4.5 inches more than the “average” man’s) my biceps lacked peak – though my tris were pretty well defined – in short, I was big but not built. I wanted to look like a bodybuilder but I looked more like a Bluto (from the Popeye comic strip).

Over the years I’ve tried a variety of workouts with varying consistency. I always blamed my lack of consistency, genetics and even my Crohn’s for my lack of progress. Well, people with Crohn’s much worse than mine have made better progress (see my earlier blogs on Peter K. Vaughn and Peter Nielsen for examples) and I know men who have made dramatic changes in their physiques in the course of a few months.

Well, today in the grocery store I finally had a revelation. My problem has been in front of my for all these years. Why do I not look the way I want? Because I eat the way I want!

I’ve been told this over the decades by at least two personal trainers (maybe three), a nutritionist, friends, family and God only knows how many books on exercise, weightlifting, diet, and nutrition.

So, what am I going to do about this? Well, I’ve already started.

Now that I have my caloric intake under control I need to improve the quality of what goes into my mouth. I loaded up on fresh (or as fresh as we get now days) veggies and fruits. I avoided the sugary treats, and I have enough to last the week. I chose Greek yogurt over regular because it has fewer calories and more protein (need some dairy after all). Tomorrow I plan my meals out so that I’m not caught in a situation where I “have” to go through the drive-thru and I’m taking another look at my supplement plan. Currently, I’m not taking anything except iron and calcium that my doctor prescribed. I’m thinking of adding back in a multi-vitamin and fish oil. Possibly some glucosamine as well for joint health.

I currently feel  better than I have in years so I’m determined not to squander this feeling. I may never lift 350 pounds again (or maybe I will, who knows) but I bet I still have time to see my abs. At least two of them…

Onward!