My Bodybuilding to Fitness Journey

“Every man wants to be bigger than dad…”

From the Pumping Iron song – Written by Michael Small and performed by Joey Ward

In some ways this is an easy entry for me to write, in other ways it’s difficult. I started out thinking that I would write a blog about my journey to a 350 pound (160 kg) bench press and how you could achieve one, too (short answer: go to http://www.timinvermont.com/fitness/benchpgm.htm and follow the program there. It may take a few rounds, but you’ll gain a lot of strength and a lot of size each time). But, I got to looking at old records and started to reflect on my progress over the years. This reminiscing led me to a basic question about myself: am I now or was I ever an actual bodybuilder?

Let’s review the evidence…

First Impressions

If you looked at me today or at any point in my life your answer to the question “is Dave a bodybuilder” would be a pretty emphatic “no.” Sure, I have some size and statistically speaking there are very few men my age who can lift as much as I can in the weight room (see my blog How Much Can the Average Man Bench Press for details and to find out how you compare). But I’m clearly much too fat to be a bodybuilder in the popular sense, my waist and hips are too wide, etc., etc. At best you might think I’ve done some power lifting in my past. But I’m no Arnold. Heck, I’m not even a Richard Simmons. But in the broader sense of the term? Maybe…

The Early Years

Skinny me!
Not so skinny me.

If you look into my past it’s clear that exercise and weightlifting in particular have been part of my life for a long time. I actually started lifting in high school using my dad’s 110 pound plastic barbell set purchased at Montgomery Wards (we called it “monkey” Wards back in the day – what a laugh that was…eh, I guess you had to be alive then). Believe it or not at that time my school did not have a proper weight room. There was a Universal Gym that lived in a store room just off the gym by the custodial office but frankly, even though I was on the on the track team, I was too intimidated the “jocks” to actually use it myself.

Despite my self image of being fat (probably a blog post in and of itself) I was a skinny teen and not even remotely considered a jock – though I did finally letter in track my junior year. The earliest records I have indicated that I had average sized 13 inch (33 cm) arms in my twenties and benched about 90 pounds (40 kg) for reps during a typical workout. My 39 inch (99 cm) was barely larger than my 37 inch (94 cm) waist.

Not surprisingly, my goal back in my teens and twenties was simple: get bigger.

And not just a little bigger, I wanted to be huge with 22 inch (56 cm) arms and to be barely able to fit into a XXXL shirt. I wanted to look like the guys on the magazine covers – Arnold, Big Lou Ferrigno, Dave Draper, and a host of others. This quest for size, by the way, had nothing to do with attracting girls. I think it was for what may be a more common reason – I didn’t want to be small or perceived as weak. I also wanted to be satisfied with what I saw in the mirror. Narcissism isn’t just for politicians.

Reality vs Expectations

The picture is small and grainy – early digital photography – but I like the look of that tricep!

So in my younger years I had bought fairly heavily into the myth that anyone could achieve a Mr. Olympia physique. The myth that the secret to size and strength was to take the right supplement, do the specific workout that Mr. Current Trophy Winner did, curl the weight with you pinky pointing up, and so on and so forth. Do these things and the muscle would come. In my naivety I didn’t realize that to achieve a champion bodybuilder’s physique took a lot more dedication than I had, to the point of making it your life, extraordinary genetics, and chemical assistance well beyond a second scoop of creatine before your workout.

So, predictably, I wasn’t very successful in those early years. At least in terms of my progress matching my expectations. However, even without having someone to guide me in the gym and to follow me around slapping pizza out of my hands, I did start to make progress. My trial and error method of training, my research skills, and overall desire to make a change did serve me better than I thought. I had the tools to at least get closer to my goal – but I kept getting in my own way so to speak. There was also, of course, my health issues. Primarily Crohn’s Disease.

Adversity, Attitude, and the Middle Years

Big, but needed more definition.

As I mentioned earlier I had issues maintaining a consistent workout. Some were due to allowing conflicts to get in the way of my training (I’m looking at you theatre), but others were of a more serious health nature. The first being Crohn’s which is often a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease. People who are afflicted with Crohn’s can suffer from severe pain, nutritional deficiencies, and more than 75% of us end up with surgery (I’m one of the 75% in fact).

Because of Crohn’s I lost all the meager gains I had made in my early twenties during a serious and long term episode. I went from 180 pounds (82 kg) down to about 130 pounds (59 kg). I didn’t mind the sub-thirty inch (76 cm) waist. But it came with 10 inch (25 cm) arms – flexed – and no abs. To be fair, I never had abs. Even as a skinny teen I didn’t have them. They just hadn’t been invented yet.

During those two years or so before my Crohn’s came under some level of control I had trouble just getting through the day and maintaining a job let alone work out. I was having trouble eating enough food to stay alive let alone gain mass.

But, the day finally came that my appetite returned and so did my efforts in the gym. I have to admit that I actually hit my bodybuilding stride in my thirties and forties. In fact it was in my forties that I started getting compliments and comments about the size of my arms. Fun fact, today my forearm is actually bigger than my upper arm was when I first started lifting (it pays to keep records folks).

It was also in my mid forties that my strength reached it’s peak – unfortunately, so did my weight but that’s another story. It took a few decades but my 60 pound (27 kg) bench press soared to 350 pounds (not quite 160 kg) one time max rep. I stress “one time.” Only once, I never tried again, but I still claim it.

Today – A New Attitude?

Before and after my ileostomy reversal.

In the past 3 or 4 years began what I called my period of rapid decline. Not because I was having less successful workouts. But because suddenly multiple health crises started popping up.

First came the Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clot in my leg). This was followed by the news a few months later that at some point earlier in the year I had suffered a heart attack which permanently decreased the function of my heart. Then Crohn’s decided to have another swat at my which led to a perforated bowel and an ileostomy bag for a long 6 months or so. During which time I contracted Norovirus which put me into kidney failure (see Wash Your Hands People for details).

But even after all the above, I still returned to lifting. The desire to want to be bigger and stronger has not abated over the years, but I have added a new dimension to my training.

A long time ago a personal trainer, who was a competitive bodybuilder, told me that you should never mistake bodybuilding for fitness. Bodybuilding, in the competitive world at least, is all about looks. In fact, many of the practices that professional and amateur competitors do to prepare for a contest can be harmful if not dangerous to the body. Water depletion, calorie restriction, and this is before any discussion of drugs is considered.

In my younger days, if I had the dedication and drive to be competitive, I might have followed that same unhealthy path in the quest to get big, look better and to win trophies. But today, now that the realization of how precious and rare good health actually is has become evident to me, I have changed my training. Sure, I still lift and want to have muscle to flex, but I now also work on cardio and fat loss. It may be too little, too late, but here we are.

Advice to Youth or Lessons Learned

The take-aways of my journey are simple. If you want to be a competitive bodybuilder that’s your choice and there’s nothing wrong with it. But understand that it is a lifestyle and one that will take you away from other things in life. Leisure time, outside activities, and possibly relationships. I may be over stating this as there are happy pro-bodybuilders. But they sacrificed along the way.

Here’s a few more tidbits of things I’ve learned over time:

  • To thine own self be true. When I first started training bodybuilding was an oddity. In fact, coaches were still actively discouraging weight training because they worried that their athletes would become “muscle-bound.” So to large degree the idea of lifting to get bigger and stronger was frowned upon. Today there is no such stigma and it’s almost expected that everyone will lift weights at some point. Just be sure that you understand your motivations for doing so. Is it to get stronger? Look better? Get bigger? Staying focused on your goal will guide your training.
  • Remember – you are doing this for you. No one else. Your goals are your goals and you don’t have to justify the why’s of them to anyone but your self. Keep that in mind when you are asked why you work out so much, watch your diet so closely, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Likewise, don’t think that you know it all. There’s a world of information on bodybuilding out there. Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is still essential reading, too. I actually shared a hose one summer with a grad student who was clearly an experienced lifter and we never once talked about training. A missed opportunity for sure and I’m betting one of many.
  • Nutrition is key. Trust me on this, you can’t supplement your way past a bad diet. Speaking of supplements, you probably need fewer than you think (I know I’ll get some flack on this point). Some extra protein when you can’t get all your meals in, maybe some creatine but that’s about it. Especially when you are just starting out. In any case, get your diet straight first. Then you can experiment with supplements – but I bet you’ll find that you can get very far without them.
  • Your heart is your most important muscle. I know that it’s hard to think about heart health and keeping your body fat low when you are in your teens and twenties and your metabolism is firing at full speed. No one asks about your blood oxygen levels at the beach after all. But believe me, one day without warning your metabolism will suddenly slow down and instead of being that skinny guy with a natural six-pack you’ll be that fat guy with a full keg! You’ll have trouble walking up stairs, and a couple of squats will really make you sweat. You can avoid almost all of this with a little walking and running each day. Cardio – it’s not just for heart patients. It helps keep you from becoming one, too.
  • Be kind. Some day down the road when a gym newbie asks you for a spot or advice, give it. Remember where you started. Also, humor that old guy in the gym who tells you that he used to lift 350 pounds. If you keep working out and stay healthy someday that old guy will be you.
Posing in the “playroom”

There is no point of regretting the past, but I do wish that I was more focused on my training early on. However, I am happy with where my current training is taking me. Even with my prime training years behind me (I have to admit it) I still make gains. Granted, my challenges are different now. I don’t try to lift all the weights. I now have goals that involve running longer distances – or any distance – and I find I’ve become more of a cheerleader for others as they begin their own bodybuilding or fitness journeys. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. Done right, bodybuilding and weight lifting can be a life long activity.

So, Are You a Bodybuilder or Nah, Brah*?

Oh, that’s right I forgot we started with that question. I have to admit that even today, when I’ve had to begrudgingly modify my training style to focus more on cardio and cut back on the heavy weights, that I still have that old mindset of bigger and stronger is better. My training partner can confirm that I spend a little too much time flexing in the mirror and trying to find just the right light to make by biceps “pop” when I flex. I enjoy the feel of the weight as I push and pull it. I look forward to the “pump” as the workout progresses and the endorphins kick in and that feeling when even though you’re tired it feels like you could lift a Mack Truck off your chest and conquer the world. I like seeing new veins emerge and when muscle definition starts to show through the layer of fat (diet ladies and gentlemen). I enjoy trying out new exercises and figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t.

So yeah, I may not be good at it and you’ll never see me on stage in a pair of posing briefs with way too much self-tanner covering every inch of my body, but I think it’s time to admit that I am a bodybuilder. Proud of it, too.

Are you one? Leave your thoughts in the comments and let’s discuss!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

*P.S. – I promise never to use “brah” in a header again.

Fitness Quest: July 2021 Update

Since we are now about half-way through the year and I haven’t done a proper fitness update in a while here you go!

Internal Health

The big news is that my Crohn’s disease continues to be under control. The bigger news is that my heart is working better, too. There was a concern in March that my heart function had decreased somewhat so my cardiologist put me on Entresto (you’ve seen the ads if you live in the United States) and it appears to be working. My ejection fraction has gone from 35% to 43% in the first three months. Since I tolerate the drug and am responding to it we are now talking about increasing the dosage a little to see if we can do a little better. From what I understand a normal ejection fraction is somewhere between 70 and 50%. So I’m almost back to the “normal” range. An unexpected side effect is that I could tell it was working because I didn’t have so many dark thoughts about death and dying as I’ve been having since this whole thing began. I’m thinking about the future again. The mind and the body are linked. If your body works better, your mind responds accordingly. At least that seems to hold true in my case.

External Health

I’m still staying active as possible and, according to my trainer at least, I’m doing things that men 20 years younger than me can’t do. Such as bench press more than my bodyweight. My weight is down since the beginning of the year and I see veins where I haven’t seen veins before (if you don’t know why this is cool, talk to your nearest gym rat). I’ve given up on ever having six pack abs for the simple reason that two abdominal surgeries have kind of mooshed things around. I’m still working on losing the layers of fat on my mid-section but between the scars and other issues I don’t know what I’ll find when that happens. Still a long way to go but my bodyfat is moving downwards with my weight.

Current Workout and Activities

Cardio will be a bit of a challenge as usual. My tap dancing is paused for the summer (we’ll start up again in September) and I need to get back to putting in my steps each day. I’ve been falling short of my 10,000 for quite a while now.

Like men 30 years my junior I’m still obsessed with arm size. So I’m in a little competition with another friend who lifts to see who can gain the most size on his arms in six weeks. In addition to this I am working chest twice per week and am currently going with a high repetition/low weight scheme on bench press. I’m working up to 100 reps over 4 sets at 135 lbs. (61kg) with my brother-in-law. I’m about 10 shy of the goal right now. Not sure what we’ll do next. Maybe back to 225 lbs (102kg) to see how we fare at that weight. I also workout with my trainer once per week.

I’ll be running – and I use the term loosely – in the annual Rose Run on July 10th which is a fund raiser for cancer research. I’m also doing a 25 push up per day challenge for the American Cancer Society. So it’s a busy month!

Summary

If I can keep up this pace I expect to end the year in a much healthier place than I began it. And with a more positive mindset, too. I don’t expect to win any marathons or bodybuilding competitions, but I sure as heck expect to be wearing smaller pants and lifting more weight! I might even be a better tap dancer too. A long shot I know.

I hope that you are all doing well in overcoming your fitness challenges and reaching your goals, too! Let me know about them in the comment section below.

Featured image by Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

How Do You Know if You Have Big Arms?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

There is a saying in most gyms that, for men at least, “the day you first pick up a weight is the day you become forever small.”

Like many sayings there seems to be some truth in it. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that every man who starts to lift weights is doing it because at some level he wants bigger muscles. Oh sure, he might start with the idea of getting stronger for sports or maybe it’s because he is getting picked on for being too skinny (or too fat) or because he thinks it will help him get noticed by girls or any of a dozen more reasons. But, at the basic motivation level, he wants to be able to roll up his shirt sleeve and have something to flex. Or better yet, something to flex that will stretch his shirt sleeves without rolling them up.

This isn’t an issue just for American men. If my most popular blog post – When is a Man’s Arm Considered Big? – is any indication this is a concern for men all over the world. I’ve had hits from every continent (except Antarctica) and most every country. Some even from real people!

Go to social media or your favorite search engine and you’ll find that building bigger arms is a popular subject for literally thousands of Instagrammers, YouTubers, Facebookers, and I suspect Tik Tokkers too. Even men with extraordinarily big arms will talk about how they want to add just a little more “size to the bis” with the usual goal being a muscular 20 inches (or a little over 50 cm). Which, frankly, is unrealistic for most men and difficult to achieve even with vitamin-S (steroids).

Me as a “fat” teen. Photo from my high school yearbook.

“But wait,” you say, “don’t guys who are jacked know that they are jacked?” No, they don’t always know. Obviously a few do and they are eager to capitalize on this (again go to social media – you’ll find plenty of them willing to sell you a training program). But for most of us “average Joes” it’s a constant battle to gain a little more size and shape. Because no matter how developed we become there’s always the same skinny/fat guy looking back at us in the mirror.

Many people joke that bodybuilders and weightlifters – but never crossfitters for some reason (zing!) – suffer from body dysmorphia. I’m not going to go that far as true dysmorphia is a serious mental health disorder that can lead to significant issues. But I do think that as a group the bodybuilding community may suffer from what I’ll call a physical “misperception.” It’s no secret that in a way we are all two different people. We are the person who the world sees and also the person who we see inside our head. Moreover this inner perception of ourselves is often formed when we are young and difficult to change. If you were skinny as a kid, your self-image is one of a skinny kid. I myself always thought I was fat as a kid but pictures from my youth clearly indicate that this was never the case!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From my own personal experience regardless of how big or small my arms have been over the years – from stick thin (thanks to my Crohn’s disease) to flat and fat (thanks poor diet) – in the mirror I always see the same somewhat shapeless, flabby arm. Even when presented with external evidence to the contrary.

For example, here are a few comments I have gotten about my arms over the years:

  • “Wow, you have big triceps,” from an EMT helping to remove my sweatshirt in the Emergency Room (long story told here).
  • “You have big triceps,” a friend making casual conversation at a party after asking if I had been working out.
  • “You must workout,” from a phlebotomist about to take my blood.
  • “Don’t go breaking my blood pressure cuff with those muscles,” a medical technician during a pre-exam. Yes, in case you noticed, many of the comments I get about my arm development come from medical professionals.
  • “At some point your arms just kind of blew up like…(making a motion that indicates the size of a basketball),” a friend who was commenting on my weight room progress.
  • “You think your arms are small because you can’t see your triceps,” from a training partner.
  • “Looks like someone brought the big guns out tonight,” a crew member taking my ticket while I was boarding a boat for a dinner cruise (I was wearing a short sleeve shirt with admittedly tight sleeves).
  • “Oh come on, make a muscle,” a female friend at a party. I put this one here because all the other above comments were from men – so much about bigger muscles attracting women (sorry guys).

Interestingly enough, I got many of these comments when my arms were not at their biggest. Why? Because a fat arm doesn’t necessarily look big. Especially if it matches the rest of the body. Without definition and a visible “peak” to the bicep or “horseshoe” to the tricep the assumption is that there is no muscle underneath. A man with 18″ (46 cm) arms, which are big in anyone’s books, at 35% bodyfat may therefore look smaller than the man with a 16″ (41 cm) arms at 15% bodyfat. In this case size does not actually matter. The perception of size does.

So, if a big arm can look small and a small arm can look big – how do you know if you have big arms?

Simple, other people will tell you.

Now, go hit the gym. It’s arm day!

P.S. – do you want to know how your arms stack up to the average guy or your fellow gym goers? Find out here and here! Want to build bigger arms? Here are couple tips.

Photo by Cesar Galeu00e3o on Pexels.com

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Where to Go When You Have to GO at Walt Disney World

When you suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as I have for most of my life (Crohn’s) you become very familiar with restroom facilities where ever you happen to be. As a relatively frequent visitor to Walt Disney World (WDW) over the years – since 1975 – I think that I can safely say I have seen a majority of the restrooms in each park at WDW. So, with the understanding that I speak strictly from a male point of view and as a single childless person I don’t pay attention to things like baby changing stations, here are my observations:

The Good News:
In general, as with so many things, WDW on the whole does a great job with their restrooms. They are cleaned frequently and you rarely encounter an “out of order” sign on any given stall. I cannot even recall an single incident or time where I visited a restroom at any of the parks and found that the stall I chose was out of toilet paper or, worse, clogged up by the previous occupant. Given the number of people who must use the facilities at any of the parks on even a slow day this is an impressive feat.

Also, in all the parks the restrooms are spaced out fairly regularly and are generally well marked so that they are easy to find. Given how sudden the urge may strike for those of us with IBD this is a blessing. Even during my most recent visit to EPCOT (February 2020) with construction closing off the usual walkways between Future World and the World Showcase I still found the restrooms to be located in good proximity to each other.

The Bad News:
Yes, you will find the occasional wet seat because some nervous dude was afraid to lift the seat before he tinkled (trust me guys, in case your wife hasn’t clued you in yet your aim isn’t as good as you think). This is by no means the fault of the cast at WDW, however, but it’s still disappointing. Can you guys who don’t want to lift the seat maybe try doing it with your foot? Oh, you wear flip-flops exclusively…sigh. You know you can wash your hands immediately afterwards, right? You DO wash your hands immediately afterwards, right?

Moving on…

Part of the Tangled restroom theming – if you saw the movie you know.

The Best of the Best
In my humble opinion the best restroom at WDW is the one in the Magic Kingdom’s Tangled Rest Stop. This is one of the newer facilities and it is large and roomy. There always seems to be a seat open when you need on even when the area is packed full of guests – as it usually is. This location is also nicely themed in keeping with the character of the area. A close second are the restrooms over in Galaxy’s Edge (near the Market Merchants). These restrooms are more industrial and utilitarian in appearance but again fit nicely into the theme.

The Best Placed Restroom
The restroom which is best placed is without a doubt the one about halfway through the queue line for Avatar Flight of Passage over at the Animal Kingdom. Given that even with a Fast Pass you may be standing in line for over an hour having this restroom was a true blessing. It’s a one seater though so you may have to wait if someone else is using it and, of course, the line will keep moving while you are doing your business so to avoid angering your fellow guests your entire party will have to wait for you there (fortunately, there was only one person with me last time I visited).

If I were king of the Magic Kingdom I’d be looking into how a restroom can be added into any line that stretches more than an hour in length (I’m talking to you Peter Pan).

The restroom is where now?

The Worst Restroom
This one is a bit of a surprise, but in my opinion the worst restrooms are over at the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland between Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies and Star Traders. Usually crowded and, though it might be my imagination, an unusually narrow passage way between the stalls and the wall. I’ve had to use it several times and for some reason it always seems to be a less than stellar experience – but in port in a storm as they say.

So there you have it. My opinion of the restroom situation at Walt Disney World. Like I said, overall pretty good. The fact that I don’t recall most of my visits to restrooms is a very good thing and just how it should be.

These are my thoughts and I’d love to hear yours!


Fitness Quest: 2019 A Year in Review

It may be a couple days late, but at the start of another year I think it’s worth taking a quick look back at where I’ve come fitness wise at least. One of the benefits of keeping records is being able to see progress which in real time seems to never come.

I started 2019 as an ostomate. I’ve discussed this in other blogs (like this one here). Suffice it to say that there are challenges when you don’t have use of your colon. Among them was getting the proper nutrients and maintaining weight. In some ways this was good as I did lose a good deal of fat through the experience but also lost muscle as well.

Giving the “thumbs up” after surgery!

I am fortunate that my ileostomy could be reversed and was in April 2019. The results were immediate, observable and positive. Muscle gains, despite being a middle-aged man, were rapid as my body started bouncing back to it’s old self. To the point that my trainer was impressed and even asked if I had always put on muscle so quickly (I wish). By the end of the year I had gained about 30 pounds and according to skin fold measurements almost all of it was lean mass.

Briefly, I started the year weighing 196 pounds/89 kg with a bodyfat % of 24%. I ended weighing 226 pounds/102.5 kg with a bodyfat of 23.5. Even given the usual error rate a significant gain in solid mass (skinfold totals dropped from 151 to 137). My chest grew from 39.5 inches/100.3 cm inches to almost 45 inches/114.3 cm. My unflexed arms are the same size (about 13.5 inches/34.3 cm) but flexed I stretch the tape to nearly 16 inches/40.6 cm, a gain of about 1.5 inches/3.8 cm.

Me putting on a good face during the annual Rose Run in Petersburg, MI

Cardiovascularly, even though I didn’t beat my best time in my annual 5K run I did better than I have in most years. My blood pressure has crept up this year so I need to refocus on my diet – especially my sugar habit – and get more regular with my cardio. Though I do a couple cardio and core sessions each week I’m not getting my steps in now that winter is here. I’m making better use of my exercise bike since last week and will have to keep it up.

Foods we should all eat more often!

My diet has changed. I’m cooking more food myself at home and packing lunch almost everyday. I wouldn’t say I’m on a true mediterranean diet by any means, but I eat more olive oil, hummus, and vegetables in general than I ever thought I would. Plus, even though I visit the drive-thru much too often (2-3 times per week) this is about half as often as I used to do.

I do take a lot more selfies these days, too!

For 2020 I’ve got the usual goals – increased cardiovascular health, less fat and more muscle. If the past year is an indication I like my odds.

Onward!

Crohn’s Update: Surgery and Post-Op Condition

Warning: as usual with my posts regarding my struggles with Crohn’s this post contains frank discussion of basic bodily functions not usually discussed in polite company. If talk of peeing and pooping make you squeamish, you may want to just move along.

Giving the “thumbs up” after surgery!

Those of you have read my previous post know that I had gone into the hospital to have what the medical staff referred to as an “ileostomy takedown” or in other words, my internal plumbing was reconnected and all organs that belonged inside my body (the stoma, which was a portion of small intestine pushed out through my abdomen for the removal of waste via an appliance aka “the bag”) were put back inside. This is an operation I had been looking forward to. Even though the creation of the stoma quite literally saved my life, it was an inconvenience to deal with – some of the issues I have described in earlier blog entries.

So, how did it go? Pretty well actually. According to the surgeon the surgery could not have gone better. Unfortunately, this does not mean that there were no issues. The biggest one, from my perspective, was that the epidural given to me to control pain also caused an issue where I could not release my bladder. You see, the epidural provided strong drugs to my mid-section which essentially turned off nerve receptors. The good news is that thanks to this treatment I was up and around pretty quickly. The bad news, I couldn’t urinate. This led to not one, not two, but several different catheters being inserted into my uretha – an uncomfortable procedure at best and in my case painful as apparently one of the times my uretha was “nicked.” As bad as not being able to go was, the sight of blood coming out of where blood should never come out was a bit unnerving to say the least. Plus this caused some pain in my you know what, which prevented me from trying to go. At one time the urine back up was so bad that after one catheter I released 1.2 liters of urine. For comparison, the average male bladder maxes out as about 400 – 600 milliliters. My bladder was pushed to its limit. This extended my hospital visit by a couple days as they wanted to be sure that my urinary function was normal before sending me home.

Well, that and the unexpected vomiting.

The third day post-op my gut seemed to be waking back up. I didn’t actually pass gas or stool yet, but my bowel sounds were active. In fact, one nurse said my gut sounded “hyperactive.” Which usual meant that things were starting to move through my system again and my long unused colon was waking up (so to speak). Wrong. Just as I was about to try to eat some lunch my guts went into full revolt. And very much like the girl in the Exorcist I began spewing everywhere! Since I hadn’t eaten much what came out was a build up of gastric juices and other liquids. The good news is that I learned I could still move quickly despite any lingering internal pain, the bad news is that we discovered how much liquid I could hold in. Turns out, quite a lot.

After these two setbacks, things started to improve quickly. My bowels began moving on day 4 PO (post-op), pretty much pure liquid but I was passing stool and gas. My bladder kicked back in later that same day thanks to some Flowmax and the discontinuation of the epidural. So by day 6 PO I was able to come home.

Now, one day shy of three weeks post-op, my stool is still pretty liquid with signs of solids every now and then. Still going more often than I’d like, but it’s way more controllable than the stoma was – plus no more bag to change frequently and more importantly, no accidents since my surgery. My staples have been removed and my new scar is healing. I have a shallow hole where my stoma used to be which is getting shallower by the day.

Still several more weeks before I can lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, but I can walk and stand upright. I even have permission to get on my exercise bike and next week I’m going to ask about being allowed to work from home so I can at least catch up on emails. Things are looking up and I have no regrets about undergoing the surgery.

Physically, I did lose some weight again through the ordeal and am now at about 190 pounds. The lightest I’ve been in some time. Given how fast food is still flowing through me, I may get down to the mid-180 range before things settle down. The good news though is that my bodyfat% seems to be dropping in relation to my muscle mass. So though I’ve lost some of both fat and muscle, the fat loss has been greater. I’ll be in a good position for rebuilding once I’m able to lift again.

About 3 weeks post-operation. My shoulders seem to have lost some mass again.

Arms are a little smaller and flatter, too. The shirt I’m wearing used to be much tighter and now I have the dreaded sleeve gap.

Onward!

Fitness Quest: Pre-Op Condition

So those of you who have read my blog know that I had an ileostomy in August 2018 as a result of my ongoing struggle with Crohn’s disease. You also know that I have a strong interest in physical fitness which sometimes results in me actually working out. In my youth (July 2018) my focus had been mostly on building muscle with an increasing amount of cardio thrown in due to a heart attack brought on by a severe Crohn’s attack. With the ileostomy, my focus shifted again.

From day one of the ileostomy I knew that it was reversable and that another surgery would one day be in my future. So, my fitness efforts changed somewhat again and I put much more effort into my workouts. So along with my walking, tap dancing once a week, twice a week lifting with my brother-in-law (aka “the animal”) I added a couple drop-in classes at the College I work at (Owens Community College – your success starts here) and also engaged the services of a personal trainer once a week. I wanted to be as strong and healthy as possible before going back “under the knife.” Well, today is the day that I go into surgery so here’s a quick update on where I stand.

The good news: I’m clearly stronger. I can bench more weight and reps than prior to my hospitalization in August 2018. My stamina has increased and I have more muscle. Body measurements indicate that my proportions are changing. I get positive comments on my triceps on a regular basis and even though my arms haven’t actually grown I think they look better.

On the right my arm in August 2018, the left as it looks today. Same size better shape and definition.

I also think my entire torso looks better. My waist hasn’t really shrunk, but since my chest is larger, by an inch, and a tighter waist a “V” shape is starting to form. All positive changes.

The bad news: my electronic scale and fat folds both say that my bodyfat % is the same as it was in August though the skin folds seem to indicate that the fat has moved around. My personal trainer is baffled as he agrees that I look better and am clearly stronger, too. Do I trust the mirror instead of calipers and scales? Not sure.

My recent trip to the hospital (see previous blog post) revealed that one of my heart medications may have been breaking down my muscle instead of helping me as it should have. If this is the case it might explain why my muscles didn’t grow more from my regular workouts (age is a factor as well, I’m sure, sigh).

The conclusion: I’ll be healthier with my colon reconnected. The colon is where most of the water is absorbed by the body and my challenge to stay hydrated over these past several months may be taking a toll on my kidneys. As my GI says, it will be easier for me to stay healthy with everything reconnected. The hard work of doing so still remains with me.

In any event I’ll have six weeks of recovery after the surgery. Six weeks without lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk. I’ll be able to walk, but probably not run or dance until after six weeks as well.

Rare picture of me not only shirtless but with scar and appliance in full view.

Six weeks to plan my return to the gym, get my diet fine tuned and keep cultivating other healthy habits. My ileostomy reversal is an end of sorts, and a welcome one, but the beginning of my next chapter.

Onward!

Giving Thanks

Last year on Thanksgiving I hit my head while playing kick ball with my cousins (yeah, we’re not exactly the Kennedys). This led to me having an EKG and the discovery that sometime in the past that I had a heart attack, which led to changing my Crohn’s medication for fear it was effecting my heart function, which led to a bowel perforation and my current ostomy.

So what am I thankful this year? Just being alive and able to celebrate another Thanksgiving with loved ones!

Which may be as much as any of us should be thankful for.

Onward!

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: Spring and Summer 2018

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted (April) so there’s a lot to catch up on. Mostly good…

Crohn’s: we, my gastroenterologist and I, have decided to change my medication and I’m no longer on Humira and have switched to Entyvio (vendolizumab). She, my gastroenterologist, strongly suspected that the Humira wasn’t keeping me as well controlled as I thought and after consultation with my cardiologist – who now gets consulted by every doctor I have – recommended that I try something else. I’m all for anything that can better control my symptoms, of course, and so I now get infusions instead of taking a weekly injection. I’ve had some flares since starting the new treatment, including one that sent me to the emergency room while traveling out of town.

The issue wasn’t the Crohn’s directly, as the pain wasn’t that bad, but dehydration

ambulance architecture building business
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

brought on by the Crohn’s. I just wasn’t going to take a chance since we think that a Crohn’s attack brought on my heart attack and my symptoms (severe chills) were just too unusual for me. I was so cold, inside my hotel room under my blankets, that if I were outside camping I would have thought I had hypothermia.

Long story short, one ambulance ride and two IVs of fluid later, I was back at my hotel feeling a whole lot better.

I’ve had one or two other minor flares since starting the treatment, but I’m still within what they call the “ramp up” phase of the infusions so the drug hasn’t reached it’s full efficacy (full effectiveness) yet. My next infusion is August 9th so we should know by then.

In addition to the Entyvio, we are also being more aggressive in treating my anemia – presumably caused by the Crohn’s – and have started getting iron infusions as well. Interestingly enough, if these work I’ll only need two and the benefits will last months and possibly years! The first infusion was this week and so far no side effects so we know I didn’t get too much iron. The second is next week and it will then be a few weeks after that before we know if it works. If all goes well I’ll have more energy and actually be breathing easier as well. Which means, you guessed it, less strain on the heart (concern #1).

Cardiac Health: I finished my cardio rehab with flying colors. My exercise therapist said I was a star pupil and an example for others and sent me off with instructions to

black and white blood pressure kit
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

continue my work and a hope that he never sees me again – at least in rehab. If anyone out there has a heart issue and is offered the opportunity to take rehab DO IT! I left knowing my body better and more importantly my limits. I can judge when I might be pushing too hard and, just as importantly, when I’m not pushing hard enough.

Thanks to rehab I had the confidence to run in the Rose Run again this year.  This is the annual 5K to support breast cancer research held in Petersburg, Michigan in July and Burbank, California in October. If there are two more disparate communities to host the same event out there I couldn’t tell you where they are! Anyway, I didn’t beat my time from last year (sob), but I finished feeling good and, here’s the important part, without a cardiac event!

Massage:

board brown daylight destination
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I got my first deep tissue massage. I’ve been having some intermittent muscle pains, especially in my chest, and my primary care physician suggested massages as a regular treatment. Well, while traveling on business I was a spa in Saratoga Springs, NY and some free time so I treated myself to a mineral bath and a deep tissue massage. Wow! I had no idea how tight I was until my masseuse started her work. I was never in pain, but came close. She also confirmed that I had a couple substantial “knots” in my chest that one massage wasn’t going to get rid of. So she gave me a couple stretches to do on my own and suggested fascial stretch therapy. I’ve been looking into this and will likely give it a try within the next couple weeks. I’ll blog more on this later.

Yoga: 

man wearing white pants under blue sky
Photo by antas singh on Pexels.com

I did start yoga, but have fallen off the wagon. I need to get back on it as this does help with stress, breathing, flexibility, and a lot of other benefits. I been using routines on youtube led by Adriene. Her videos were suggested by a friend and I find her teaching method to be easy to follow and a good introduction to yoga. Plus, you can do it from your home. I’m sure most would say that a video can’t replace a good in person instructor, but honestly, I’m not reading to show my downward dog in public yet – let alone a warrior three!

Nutrition: Um, yeah, about that. Did I mention that I was traveling a lot? I have a lot of “adjustments” to make.  Moving on…

beef blur bread bun
Photo by Foodie Factor on Pexels.com

Overall Fitness: I’m still lifting weights a couple times a week. Not seeing much progress in this area and I haven’t been pushing. It’s time to make a few changes and a few gains. I can’t go heavy on lifts like the bench press anymore (see cardiac health) but as long as I don’t raise my blood pressure I can do pretty much everything I used to. Weight lifting was part of cardio rehab so I see no reason not to continue. Too many people don’t realize that strength training is especially important as we get older.

man in grey shirt and black bottom lifting barbell
Photo by Frame Kings on Pexels.com

I’ve read that the average man without training loses about 10 pounds of muscle each decade after the age of 30 (yes, 30). Regular resistance training (i.e. weights) can slow down and even reverse that loss. In fact, I would say in my case, I was actually at my strongest in my late forties. I may never bench 350 again but I can be stronger than I am now and less likely to fall and break something! I suggest you do the same.

Onward!

Mediterranean Diet