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.

Why We Run

A Very Brief and Oversimplified History of Running

Sometimes the first mile is the hardest.

Running as a sport has been around a long time – at least going back to the ancient Greek Olympic games and possibly even older. Early on running served the practical purpose of conveying messages relatively quickly between communities and military forces, at least if the legend of how the marathon came to be is true, and then later it became something that people did for fun.

To my memory running and jogging as a hobby really took off in the 1970s in large thanks to people like Jim Fix, whose book The Complete Book of Running is credited by some as kicking off the entire fitness “craze,” and Thaddeus Kostrubala who wrote the Joy of Running. Because of these two men and other fitness gurus at the time millions of people discovered the health benefits of running as a way to increase cardio vascular health and lose weight. It was no longer something that only boxers did in the movies during a training montage.

Running For a Cause

At the same time that running for hobby was gaining popularity it also became linked with raising money for causes. One of the most famous causes that comes to mind is Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope in 1980. Fox attempted to run east to west across Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. And this after his own leg was amputated from the disease! Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometers (3,339 mi) his legacy lives on with millions of people around the world running in his honor annually while raising funds for cancer research.

Other groups followed this lead and it became a trend. Today on any given weekend you can likely find any number of 5k, 10k, half marathons, or full marathons benefiting a worthy cause near your home.

There is no doubt that running has become a powerful tool to raise awareness and funds for various causes world-wide.

Why Running?

So when answering the question, “why do we run?” I think that on the surface there are several obvious answers: health, sport, and fundraising. I myself participate once a year in a 5K run in my hometown which benefits breast cancer research: The Rose Run. Interestingly, this race is run both in the little City of Petersburg, Michigan (pop. 1,200 or so) and in Burbank, California (pop. a whole lot more). I get a kick out of that for some reason.

However, even though I do not consider myself a true runner by any stretch of the imagination – unless a bear or another large carnivore is chasing me so if you see me running you better start running, too – I can tell you that it isn’t any of the obvious reasons which keeps people running. It’s deeper than that and some of the reasons are conflicting believe it or not.

Here’s my list of the real reasons people run:

Alone Time: just you, some tunes on the phone, and nature. What a better way to get out doors and clear your head of the days worries and troubles or just to think.

Camaraderie: there’s a certain friendship among runners. This is similar to the instant connection most everyone has when they meet another person who engages in the same hobby/sport that you do, but it seems especially strong among runners.

The Joy of Participation: I had the pleasure of running in this year’s Rose Run with my niece. Our shared experience over that 5K has given us stories that will last for weeks and memories that will last much longer.

It Feels So Good When You Stop: not just because you can breathe easily again and your heart slows back down to a reasonable pace. Once those endorphins kick in you really do feel better and happier!

Satisfaction of Pushing Yourself Towards a Goal: there’s a certain satisfaction that we all feel when you set out to achieve a goal and then go out and do it. Whether it be 5K or a full out marathon – you can deservedly pat yourself on the back. Even if you have to soak your feet afterwards!

So that’s it. My real reasons we run. I’d love to hear what yours are – leave a comment and share!

Finished the race and I’m still smiling!

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

Fitness Quest: Healthy Aging

Someone once, I can’t remember who, described aging best: you’re old when you drop something and you have to decide if it’s worth bending over to pick it up or if you can learn to live without it.

This observation seemed like a funny joke when I first heard it, but today it strikes a little too close to home. I don’t know about you but every day I wake up with some new little snap, crackle, or pop and I don’t mean in my cereal bowl! The sad truth is that time has a way with catching up to all of us sooner or later and no matter how we fight it we have to admit that we might be just a little bit past our prime as we enter our golden years (not that I’m there yet *cough*).

The problem as I see it is that most of us surrender to the inevitable way, way too soon. There are reports that for each decade past the age of 30 that men will lose between 3 and 5% of their muscle mass resulting in a loss of 30% of their muscle in their lifetimes (compared to their twenties). Moreover, there are also studies that show most people will also gain 1 or 2 pounds a year at the same time. Why? Well, no doubt some of this is because of the natural aging process. But I maintain it’s also because at some point in their youth most people just decide that it’s not worth the effort to stay fit anymore. They sit down in front of their TVs, laptops, tablets, phones, whatever and just don’t get up. Maybe it’s because of some pain or stiffness in the joints. Maybe it’s just because they feel tired all the time. Maybe it’s just because of <insert reason here>. Maybe it really is because of some serious medical condition – but I’m guessing that if you are still reading this that it’s not in your case and you are really looking for the key to staying healthy longer. Well here it is: exercise.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to workout like a pro-athlete or get up and run marathons several times a year (though you can if you want). I’m suggesting that even a moderate amount of movement each day, along with a little weight bearing exercise (body or actual weights) can help you maintain strength, balance, and keep those pounds off as you get older. Along with a healthy diet, of course.

Skinny me in my twenties!
Not so skinny me today. Yes, there’s still some muscle under the fat.

I’ll use myself as an example. Based on photographic evidence I was always a fairly skinny guy through my teens and into my twenties. At one point after my Crohn’s revealed itself I only weighed about 130 – 140 pounds for a while at a height of about 5’11”. However, over the course of my thirties and forties instead of losing muscle mass as the experts would predict I nearly doubled my bodyweight. Certainly, a lot of my mass gained was fat but I also increased my strength from bench pressing 95 pounds (43 kg) to a 1 rep max lift of 350 pounds (159 kg) in my late forties. In other words, at an age when my strength should have been declining, thanks to regular exercise my strength increase more than threefold.

Even today, though I don’t lift heavy to protect my joints, my 1 rep max lift is calculated to be at about 315 pounds (143 kg). Okay, I just said that to brag since it’s a decrease in strength over the past decade it doesn’t really support my overall point. Going on…

Now I may not be the best example, because thanks to Crohn’s I was not at full strength for a good chunk of my twenties or even good health. The onset of my disease did set me back a fair amount and I lost gains that I had made earlier during college. Not that I was a beefcake before Crohn’s reared it’s life altering head. But my point remains, instead of losing muscle over the next twenty years I gained muscle through regular exercise. Likewise, my regular training partner, who did not suffer from the same medical conditions and setbacks I did, also gained muscle and strength during this period. To me we are both examples that the “ravages of time” can at the very least be slowed down if not out right reversed through regular weight bearing exercise.

And it’s never too late to start. Studies have shown that people in their seventies, eighties and beyond are capable of gaining muscle and strength with just moderate weightlifting. Now granted as we age our joints maybe can’t take the strain of very heavy lifting and certainly recovery time is greater. Even I have to admit that I’m unlikely to be able to win the title of Mr. Olympia no matter how hard I train or even become a social media fitness model (shocking, I know). But I do know that if I fall down I have the strength to get up and, more importantly, I have the strength to squat without having to use the handles in the handicap stall in a public restroom. Practical strength is valuable as we age – trust me. Also, bonus, weight bearing exercises also keep your bones strong.

Even if weights aren’t your thing, there is value in just getting up and moving each day. Take a brisk walk, do some yoga or stretching, find some way to move. This will improve your cardiovascular system and balance, too.

Exercise alone doesn’t solve every issue of aging. Arthritis and other issue will likely cause your joints to ache. As I age I find I have to pay attention to other things, too. Diet, obviously, and also posture. Years of spending my days hunched over a computer keyboard have taken a toll. Both in terms of stiffness in my shoulders and in what is now sometimes called “nerd neck” (really). It may take some effort to get back into the habit of standing tall, gut in, shoulders back, chest out, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Good posture can make you look better and feel better – even as you get older!

Sadly, there are no guarantees in life and exercise isn’t a panacea for all conditions. The reality is that you can do everything right and still get sick. Take me for example, as I mentioned earlier I have Crohn’s disease. This condition, which is of unknown origin still today, may have been partly responsible for the heart attack which damaged – and continues to damage – my heart. I suffered a bowel perforation from the damage that Crohn’s did to my intestines, which resulted in me becoming an ostomate for several months. Though the surgery saved my life and I’ve been “reconnected” my digestive system doesn’t work at peak performance. I’m incapable of absorbing nutrients as well as I did prior to the surgery which could have a long term impact on my health. I was hospitalized with Norovirus which was likely picked up because I likely ate food that someone who didn’t wash their hands properly had prepared. This caused extreme dehydration and my kidneys even shut down so they don’t work as well as they used to now. I had a blood clot in my leg (deep vein thrombosis aka DVT). I have to sleep with “life support” – a CPAP machine – due to central sleep apnea which causes my brain to forget to tell my lungs to keep breathing, and so on and so forth. No matter what you do you are likely going to have problems as you get older.

You will also likely consider shaving your ears but that’s a topic best left for another blog entry.

I strongly suggest that you start moving more as soon as possible. Obviously, consult with your medical care team (and if you’re older you probably have a team of doctors) before beginning any new exercise program. However, I have often said that the moment you stop moving is the moment you become old. It’s as simple as that.

The thing to remember, no matter how tough aging can be, is that we are among the lucky ones. Many people haven’t made it to our age (whatever that may be). Each day is a blessing and we should make the most of every single one. None of us knows how long we have on this Earth, but with a little self-care the chances of those remaining days and years being enjoyable increase considerably.

As the saying goes, old age isn’t for the timid. They also say only the good die young. So do yourself a favor and give your bad self some exercise!

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

Fitness Quest: 2020 A Year in Review

Well, I’ve been away from this blog for far too long! I’m sure that both my fans have been wondering what I’ve been up to fitness-wise so here it is: not much.

I don’t have to tell anyone that 2020 was, at best, a weird year. For me the biggest adjustment was working mostly from home and I acknowledge that I’m fortunate to be able to do this. The other big adjustment was not being able to travel as I normally would. So you might think with all of this unscheduled free time being given to me because my normal after work activities being halted, especially community theatre as the biggest “time hog,” that my focus on fitness would have skyrocketed and that by now I’m a mass of lean, mean, old man muscle. Well, not so much.

The toys.

Gyms closing didn’t help but that wasn’t the real issue. My biggest issue was adjusting to cooking at home. Which, if done right, is the way we should all go. However, I found that when confronted with a full refrigerator and pantry all day I tended to “graze” all day in addition to my regular meals. So like so many others my weight creeped up during the past nine-months but went way up starting about July according to my fitbit. I think the combination of eating all day and the loss of my regular cardio classes just finally caught up with me despite my regular walks. I also suffered a mysterious shoulder injury in September so my lifting was impacted. My bench press in particular. I did manage to continue weight workouts with the personal trainer in his home gym and with my brother-in-law in his. The spring, summer, and early fall saw me taking regular walks with my sister mostly every night. But the extra fat has refused to budge.

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

So, in an effort to make a change I’ve given into the marketing and am trying Noom. I have plenty of suggestions on how to improve the product which might be worthy of another blog entry after a few more weeks, but so far so good. It’s helped to remind me of things I already knew and I’m down about four (4) pounds so far (almost 2 kg).

Things I did discover while cooking for myself this past year – I do like a fairly wide variety of foods. The heart healthy Mediterranean diet is interesting and not that hard to make. Vegetables and fruits are filling and also tasty. Don’t get me wrong, hamburgers and fries are still a big portion of my diet (too big) but I do see the way and the light. Plus one of my new past-times is looking through cookbooks and thinking to myself “I can make that.”

The biggest news – I got through 2020 without a major health crisis! No ER visits, no surgeries. The Stelara I take to control my Crohn’s seems to be working and my gastroenterologist says that there is no sign of the disease. This means that, for the moment at least, I should be able to become as fit as my middle-aged body will let me. Yes, I still have a damaged heart from a previous heart attack. Yes, my kidneys are still below optimal function from my bout with Norovirus last year (did you forget that their are still other viruses out there waiting to get you? Keep washing your hands and covering your faces folks – thanks) but overall I’m stable and healthy. Minus a few occasional aches and pains. Also, I find it ironic that I can lift a small car off my chest if necessary (a very small car) but have trouble getting up off the floor. It’d be funny if it weren’t so true.

So, I’m done with 2020 and ready to move on to 2021. I can’t control what the world may have in store for me, but I can sure as heck control how I react to it and my own small corner of it.

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!

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!

#oldguyslifttoo – Consarn It!

Those of you who follow me on other social media (yeah, both of you) may have noticed that I usually tag any remotely fitness related post first with #oldguyslifttoo. Though it clearly hasn’t caught on I’m trying to make a point with that hashtag.

Youth and Fitness

It doesn’t take much observation to realize that in our culture and society fitness and athletic activities are the province of the young. In mo and t pro sports you’re finished before 40. A quick look through Instagram and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of posts, pictures, selfies, swolfies, and not so random flexing poses of young men (and a few women) in front of bathroom mirrors. Each who seems fully dedicated to their particular workout, diet and intent on spreading their knowledge and enthusiasm to the world. Or at least get a date. Maybe both, I’m not sure, and I’m not criticizing this in the least. If it motivates anyone towards physical fitness I’m for it. Heck, if I had the abs and biceps of some of these guys I’d be right there in front of my mirror with my phone snapping a picture too.

Old = Inactive?

But, you don’t see so much from older people. Go to a gym, again filled with folks under 40. Now I’m sure that there are a lot of reasons for this. The usual being other priorities. Career, family, etc. But, these reasons don’t explain all the middle-age men and women out there who have just stopped moving. The kids are out of the house, but instead of using the time gained from no longer running mom’s transit service they have doubled down on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like. Then complain that they hurt all the time or don’t have energy.

Time for a Change

It’s time to change this folks. The benefits of daily exercise are well documented. Both men and women at any age can increase strength and improve quality of life with a moderate program of walking and weightlifting. Barring an underlying medical condition (and hey, I’m pooping into a plastic bag as I type this so I know about underlying conditions) you can stall father time. You may never have 20 inch arms or buns of steel again but you can keep your bones strong and muscles firm well into old age.

Which, for all you teens out there, doesn’t start at 30.

So, I’m proud to be an old guy who lifts, too. I hope you’ll join me.

And whoknows, maybe senior citizen swolfies will catch on too!

Onward!

Dave

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!

Fitness Quest: April 2018

Several positive items to report in my renewed quest for fitness since the discovery that I had a heart attack sometime in the past (likely, in my mind at least, in January of 2017).

Mental Health: first and foremost, my mood has improved considerably. Thanks to cardio rehab and the natural adaptation process that we all go through after experiencing major life events I’m happier than I’ve been in a while and am functioning again. At least in my opinion (my friends and co-workers may continue to disagree but that’s their problem). I am looking forward to the future for the most part again and not afraid that each day will be my last – even if it turns out to be.

Physical Health and Exercise: cardio rehab goes well and I’m making progress. I’m biking and walking like I should on days I don’t have rehab – even beating several other “steppers” in my weekly Fitbit step challenge – which I wasn’t doing for a long time. I get through my tap dancing each week without feeling like I’m going to pass out and I’m in general feeling more energetic.

More exciting is that my bodyfat percentage has been on a downward trend for about four weeks now even though my body weight has increased slightly. In bodybuilding this would be known as “making gains.” Not by huge amounts, after all I’m not a newbie or a teenager anymore, but a clear trend. It does mean that I’m not losing fat as is actual goal, but it means that I’m gaining more muscle than fat which isn’t bad either. Especially for someone who is in late middle-age (unless I live to be 130).

Last month I mentioned I was being tested for asthma and the good news is that my lungs are “normal” and have no obstructions. Something is still going on with my breathing though and my gastroenterologist has put me on iron thinking that my anemia could be contributing to the issue.

I do have sleep apnea, both obstructive and central, for which I’ll be getting a CPAP machine for this coming week (I hope). I have one more night of testing with various devices to see which will work best for me.

Crohn’s: speaking of gastroenterology, we’ve decided that my Humira may not be doing the best job for me. So we are switching things up and I’m going to Entyvio. The plus side of this is that I only get an infusion every 8 weeks (at home) instead of a weekly injection. I’ll be blogging more on this as treatments begin.

Nutrition: here’s the hard part. I’ve discovered something that I probably should have known all along. Sugar is bad for you. At least added sugar is. And like sodium, the stuff is everywhere. According to the American Heart Association men should restrict their added sugar levels to just 9 teaspoons a day (4 grams = 1 teaspoon) and women only 6 teaspoons. This means that if you have one 12 ounce can of pop a day, non-diet variety,  you’ve gone over your limit. Not to mention the mega servings most of us consume! I drink the diet stuff so that’s not a source of sugar for me, but my sweet tooth may literally be the death of me. Especially when you consider that sugar has inflammatory properties – which can aggravate my Crohn’s, which may have caused my heart attack in the first place!

Overall: I’m doing as well as can be expected and maybe a little better even. I thank God for each day I’m given and that I’m not worse off.

It’s an old saying but true: it could be worse. Oh well, it’s back to the grocery store I go!

Onward!

Mediterranean Diet