It’s been a while since I updated everyone on where my personal health stands. So, here goes…
The Good News
The good news is basically that I’m still here. I started taking Entresto for my heart “failure” over a year ago now and it seems to be doing what it’s supposed to do. While my ejection fraction is still low by most standards it is hire than it was without the medicine. So I’m in a range too close to normal to consider any kind of implant (i.e. an internal defibrillator) which is good news in my book.
The Better News
Since my surgery in 2018 and switching to Stelara my Crohn’s has remained in what the doctors are calling “deep remission.” I don’t think that anyone can ask for more than that.
The Bad News
Since my close call with Norovirus (see Wash Your Hands People for details) my kidneys have never fully bounced back. They do seem to be stable but I have now been officially diagnosed with Stage I Kidney disease. As long as it stays stable I’m good and at this point all I can do is stay hydrated to make sure that my kidneys don’t have to work too hard. Could be a lot worse.
What I’m Doing For My Health
I’m doing pretty much what anyone should be doing in my effort to stay healthy as possible. Exercise, eat right, and keep moving! My exercises of choice are still weight training/bodybuilding and my cardio is from walking.
I’ve slacked recently on the cardio – which is a mistake in my case as I need what’s left of my heart to be a strong as possible – but I’m catching back up. I did run in the Rose Run 5K again this year. I did not post my best time but it wasn’t my worst either. In fact, I actually got a medal for 3rd place in my age group! And yes, there were more than 3 runners in my age group. Looking ahead I think I can possibly take second or, dare I say it, first next year if I actually train for the race.
My weight training is still going pretty well. I’m focusing on getting leaner, again to keep my heart from working too hard, and as a result I am putting on more muscles. My arms look as good as they ever have in fact. I just need the rest of me to match. I want to be the jacked old man that the young guys can’t believe lifts that much.
Heck, I want to be that jacked old man that can’t believe he lifts that much himself! Barring that I want to be able to do 10 pull-ups…would you believe 5?
Barring a catastrophic health crisis (COVID, plague, whatever…) I plan to be able to be here next year reporting once again that all is well as can be.
I hope that you are reaching your fitness goals and are making sure to move every day. Keep pushing forward folks.
All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr
At some point in your training life you are going to decide that maybe you could do better with a personal trainer. Perhaps it’s to help you get started on your fitness journey, to take you to the next level, or even, as in my current case, someone to check in with on a regular basis to review form and monitor progress.
So the question is two-fold: 1) do you need a trainer and 2) how do you choose a trainer?
Why Have a Trainer?
I’m a proponent of personal trainers for the most part and have had a couple now. It took me a long time to put aside my ego and realize that maybe I wasn’t the best person to judge my own form when lifting and that learning from reading books and watching the big guys at the gym really wasn’t cutting it.
But once I made the decision to work with a trainer I really haven’t gone back. My preference is to find someone you can work with in person, but in a pinch an online trainer can be helpful. I’ve tried both ways and for me the in person experience is just more useful.
The big question I think most people have is “how do I choose a personal trainer?” and this is an important one. Just because someone has a million followers on Tik Tok, Instagram, etc. and abs that could cut glass doesn’t mean that he or she knows how to train someone else. Especially if that someone else may be fighting years of poor diet and exercise.
Remember, choosing a personal trainer is not a decision to make lightly. This is someone that ideally you’ll be relying on for years to come and who will have a huge influence on the only thing of value that your really have (outside of personal relationships): your body and health!
Though I’ve been happy with the trainers I’ve worked with I have to admit that I could have been more methodical in my search. My experience in finding trainers has been haphazard at best – I found my first trainer at an amusement park of all places. Hey, you have to talk about something while waiting a couple hours in line for a roller coaster, right?
So, realizing my limitations I turned to my current trainer, Matt Elvey, who also happens to be an instructor in Exercise Science at Owens Community College and teaches future personal trainers.
Here’s the advice he shared with me about finding a trainer who you can work with.
What to Look for in a Personal Trainer
Certification- NSCA/ACSM/ACE are examples of the big name certifications in the field.
Experience training the clientele you would classify yourself as. Example-if a trainer has almost exclusive experience training bodybuilders and you are looking for fat/weight loss. This probably isn’t a good match.
What Questions to Ask Before Working with a Trainer
What is your training philosophy? Ex-my approach to training is to manage the minimums of every client, assessing left/right asymmetries and bulding a program off of that.
If you have injuries/health issues, do they have experience with these. Ex- chronic knee pain, diabetes, heart attack etc.
Price per session/availability
What Qualities Make a Good Trainer
Knowledge base, a trainer has to know muscles, different training techniques and when to implement them.
Having a “gauge”- knowing what your client can handle and when they are ready to progress etc.
Managing “downtime” in a workout. We do stretches for opposite muscles we are working in between sets of muscles we are working. Example-Pec fly machine/T-spine mobility with PVC pipe.
Probably just as important as any other factor-being personable and building rapport.
My Two Cents
In addition to the good advice Matt gives above I’d like to add a couple items you need to consider before working with a trainer:
Are you ready to commit to your goals? There’s no sense hiring an expert if you aren’t ready to make training a priority in your life.
Be honest about your goals. Do you really just want to be healthier or do you want abs? Believe it or not these goals are not as similar as you might think.
Be honest about your time and other commitments when discussing availability.
Be honest about your previous exercise experience.
On-Line vs In-Person Training
I’ve done both and personally, I get a lot more out of in person training so that’s what I would recommend. But if you choose to go with an online program, which frankly can be less expensive, be aware that you will need a very high level of discipline to make it work. You won’t have that extra motivation which comes from knowing that someone is waiting for you to show up.
So, there you have it. Advice from an expert and from me. Ultimately the choice is yours of course and the important thing is that regardless of whether you have a trainer or not that you start today to get moving!
Do you have any hints and ideas on choosing a trainer? I’d love to read about them in the comments!
All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr
Google analytics is an amazing thing. Using it tells a blogger all sorts of things about his or her audience. For example: if you are reading this right now you are more than likely male, between the ages of 15 and 34, enjoy sports and fitness activities, and you found my blog by searching for something like “average bicep size” or “how big is the average man’s bicep” or maybe even “is 13 inch arms a good size for a 15 year old?”
If this description fits you, keep reading. Everyone else please go enjoy some of my other posts – hopefully you find something you like. If you do, please be sure to leave a comment and “like.” I appreciate it – thanks.
For Guys Just Starting Out
Now that the casual reader has moved on to other things let’s have a little man-to-man chat. I know that you are worried about the size of your arms. I also know that you are not alone in your goal of having bigger more muscular arms. Based on the literally thousands of you who have read my blog “When is an Arm Considered Big?” this is a common goal of anyone who has picked up a weight.
Believe me, I get it. I was skinny once myself many, many, years ago with arms that were six inches thinner than they are now. Heck, I remember being excited that my flexed bicep passed the 13 inch mark (which is the average size of a man’s arm by the way). Even now that they tape closer to 17 inches, I still want them bigger – the quest for size can become an obsession. There’s a satisfaction to watching that peak stretch the tape a little more each workout, the feel of the pump swelling the veins in your arm, finding that you know longer can wear long sleeve shirts, and so on and so forth. It can even become a bit of a game sizing up the “competition” on the street (bigger than him, smaller than him, way bigger than that guy, holy crap! I gotta hit the gym to catch up to him, etc.).
But here’s the thing – it’s not all about size. There is nothing inherently better about a 16 inch arm over a 13 inch arm. In fact, in some cases, the 13 inch arm might actually look better and be stronger. Raw size isn’t the true measure of an arm. Shape and leanness should be considered. And speaking of shape…
You Can’t Change the Shape of Your Muscles
I don’t care how many concentration curls you do if you have football shaped biceps you will never have peaks so tall that they have snow caps on them in the winter. You can always improve what you have but some things just won’t change. Accept this and you will be happier in the long run. Besides, flatter biceps actually have more volume than short high peaked ones and are likely stronger.
Do The Big Lifts and Focus on More than the Beach Muscles
Early on in your lifting career you’ll get the most bang from your buck by doing the big three – squats, deadlifts, and bench. In fact, I credit heavy benching for my tricep development (just about the only muscle group I regularly get compliments on). Activate the big muscles in your legs (quads, glutes, etc.) and you’ll reap benefits all over your body.
Once you gone up a shirt size you can start the concentration work. But make sure that your legs can support your torso first and avoid looking like a badly proportioned action figure doll (I’m looking at you He Man).
I suggest keeping some records. In this age of cell phones progress pics are literally a snap – in my day you had to buy film, take it to a little booth in the mall parking lot, wait two weeks, and get it back only to find out that the lens cap was on the camera the whole time (end of grumpy old man rant). Keep track of your weight and measurements. Trust me, one day when you are struggling to get in that 10th rep on your third set of curls at 60 pounds it will help you to look back and realize when you used to bench the same weight and thought it was heavy!
Don’t Make My Mistakes
The one thing I wish I understood from day one of lifting is that building muscle takes time. There is no magic workout, pill, or pre-workout that will get you bigger faster. Your body will respond but maybe not as quickly as the stud over in the squat rack curling 100 pounds for reps. But, maybe faster than the guy in your gym class who eats everything in sight but can’t seem to gain weight. Each of us respond to exercise a little differently, but we all do eventually respond. So called “dirty bulks,” weight gainers, and fad diets will lead to excess fat. And though that fat may be easy to burn off now the day will come – and it will come without warning – that it won’t come off so easily. What good is having a pair of 18 inch arms when they are flat and flabby? None at all. Trust me on this one.
Eat clean, stay lean. You’ll thank me later – and so will your heart.
Don’t Give Up
There will be times that you decide that your quest to get bigger and stronger just isn’t worth the time in the gym, the constant monitoring of your diet, the sacrifice of going out with friends while they are all going to the bar. Like I said earlier – it will take time. Not days and weeks, but months and years.
It’s Better to Train Alone Than With the Wrong Training Partner
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need a training partner to properly workout. True, the right training partner is worth his weight in gold. He will have similar goals as you and be supportive of your goals, too. He will also commit to working out with you on a very regular basis. But, choosing the wrong partner who maybe has different goals, doesn’t show up when expected, keeps putting you down for your goals (“Why would anyone want big arms? Legs are all that matter!” as an example) will just slow you down and hold you back. In this case go your own way and keep looking for someone who is better for you. But I myself worked out alone for years. Did I like it? Not really but I kept trying to get the job done anyway.
Oh, and if you workout alone please don’t be afraid to ask for a spot. Most guys will say yes – at least until their set is done.
The Next Step
Okay, so now you know what I say. But, if you are still reading you may be thinking “hey, I’ve seen pictures of you old man. Why should I believe anything you say? You’re not built like [insert name of the latest TikTok or Instagram “influencer” here] and you don’t even have your own clothing line.
Okay, fair enough. So next week I’ll bring you part two of this discussion and give you tips from someone who might be more relatable to you. Stay tuned…
All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr
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…
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
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
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
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?
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.
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 in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr
*P.S. – I promise never to use “brah” in a header again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Here I am running a 5K:
Here I am looking possibly as buff as I ever have:
Here I am about to go surfing for gosh sake:
And the coup de grâce, here’s the weight I was benching just a year ago. 255 for reps and sets:
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:
Surfing? Sorry, that was a one and done! Fun, but there are sharks out in the ocean.
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!
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,
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
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:
He started lifting for a sport and discovered that he liked it more than the sport he was originally training for.
He wanted to gain weight to avoid being bullied and/or intimidated by other guys.
He wanted to be bigger and stronger than his older brother (a surprising number of men fall into this group).
He started lifting with his older brother, father or another male member of the family and got hooked on both the weightlifting and camaraderie.
His younger brother started lifting and he didn’t want him to get bigger and stronger than he was.
He wanted to just better when he took his shirt off and have a reason to flex.
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.)
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.
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
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).
“Mr. Wahr, Mr. Wahr? Do you know what’s happening?” the young med student who just woke me at 4:00 A.M. asked me.
“I think so,” I replied. I had come in to the University of Michigan Hospital less than 24 hours earlier with abdominal pains that didn’t feel like a normal Crohn’s attack. Something was off so after much hemming and hawing I finally decided that given my heart history I really couldn’t take the chance that something was really wrong. Especially since the pains had started the day before and weren’t lessening as was the usual pattern with my Crohn’s, “but why don’t you tell me.”
She looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, “you’re going in for emergency surgery. A surgeon will be in shortly to explain.” Surgery? I had certainly anticipated this. In the Emergency Department they had determined that I had what they called a “micro fissure” of the fistula in my ileum. But, at least at that time, they didn’t think I needed surgery within 12 hours. So I had been moved to a room for observation.
Almost as soon as she finished her sentence a young man appeared at my bedside – why are all doctors so young now? – in a polite, but firm tone he said, “Mr. Wahr, I’m sorry but you need to sign some forms to authorize surgery. Here, here, and here.”
“Surgery?” I asked.
“Yes, we can’t get your fever under control. Our only choice is to go in and remove the cause of the infection. Otherwise your prognosis…we’ll it isn’t good,” he said in a quiet, somber tone. I understood what he was telling me and started signing the forms.
“I need to tell you of all the possibilities of having this surgery,” and he listed off the usual complications and issues and then added, “and you may end up with a stoma.” By this time another surgeon had joined the growing group at my bedside. She seemed to be in charge.
“May end up with a stoma?” I asked, “how likely is that?” The new surgeon answered, ” well, we never go in planning to create a stoma, but until we go in I can’t say for sure. They’s be coming to move you to surgery in a few minutes.”
The doctors disappeared and my nurse appeared to start prepping me for moving to pre-op. As she moved my IV bags the transport team came in. “We’re going to take you down to surgery now,” the nurse said. I grabbed my phone and sent a quick text to my brother. If something happened during surgery, I wanted someone in my family to know what happened while they slept.
In pre-op I was greeted by even more medical staff. One of the anesthesiologists started to ask me a slew of questions, a woman who identified herself as a nurse held my hand and spoke to me in a comforting manner, then I heard doors open, multiple footsteps and could feel the group around me stiffen a little.
“Mr. Wahr, I’m the faculty surgeon overseeing your operation. Here’s what’s happening. The fissure you have is worse than we thought. The contents of your bowels are emptying into your abdominal cavity, causing infection. If we don’t go in and stop this, we won’t be able to bring the infection under control. The outcome will not be positive. Do you understand?” I nodded that I did. “We’ll remove the damaged areas of your intestine and when you wake up you will have a stoma. Do you know what this is?”
“Yes,” I replied, “but it sounds better than the alternative.”
“It is,” the surgeon replied. “You’ll be going into surgery now.” And with that they began to wheel me to the operating room. I noticed the time on a clock. It was not even 5:00 A.M. They were not wasting any time which told me all I needed to know about the seriousness of my situation.
A quick trip down the hall, during which I mostly observed the ceiling, and we were in the operating room. A white, sterile looking space filled with equipment and a woman sitting in the corner covered with a blanket around her shoulders. Part of the anesthesiology team perhaps? I’ll never know. A quick transfer from my bed to the “table” and the voice of the anesthesiologists who spoke to me earlier. “Are we ready? Okay, here we go.” A mask was put on my face and just as I was wondering if this was it and would I ever wake up, everything went black.
Next thing I knew, I heard a disembodied voice asking me questions, “Mr. Wahr, can you tell me where you are?”
“U of M Hospital, I’m having surgery.”
“Very good, everything went well. You’re going to a room now.”
I continued to drift in and out of consciousness for an unknown amount of time. It was about 10:00 A.M. when I finally seemed to actually wake up. I said a silent prayer thanking God for letting me wake up and yet another doctor came into my room. This, I would later learn, was the “attending” doctor for the intensive care unit I was in.
“Mr. Wahr? How are you doing?” he asked.
“I guess fine. Considering.”
“Yes, I understand. The good news is that the surgery went well. You do have a stoma, but the infection and fever are gone and you should make a full recovery. You were lucky,” he paused to consider his words carefully, “this was the kind of thing that people die from.”
“So I hear.”
He went on to tell me a little more about the surgery and that the surgeon would be in later to check on me (as he did each day I was at the hospital). He then left me with the nurse so I could settle in.
Thus begins my newest adventure with Crohn’s. In a way I always suspected that this day was in my future – yet it was still a surprise when it happened. Many Crohn’s patients end up in surgery and with stomas. I’ve managed to avoid it for more than 30 years so in that sense I’ve been fortunate. And there is the possibility that in 6 months or so, presuming that the Crohn’s is under control, that I could be “hooked back up” so that my colon can be useful again. So, all in all, I’m handling the situation pretty well.
My current concerns while I recuperate and adjust to life with an appliance attached to my side (which does get changed every three to four days): 1) dehydration – most of the water for the body is absorbed by the colon. It will take time for my small intestine to realize it needs to pick up the slack; 2) weight loss – even though my appetite is good, food is still passing through my intestine too quickly. As a result, I’ve been slowly losing weight (almost a pound a day). Something a lot of folks dream of, but be careful what you wish for. When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s I dropped down to about 140 pounds from my then previous weight of 180 pounds before being stabilized. I sure don’t want to be that thin again. Plus, all the weight seems to be disappearing from my chest and shoulders and thighs. Not my belly where I really don’t need it. Muscle loss is certain at this point. There goes the last 30 years of training down the drain; 3) infection, which I’ve avoided so far, always a risk after surgery but especially for someone with a weakened immune system; 4) controlling the Crohn’s. My past medical regimen didn’t prevent the fissure which is an indication that the treatments weren’t working. The interesting thing now is that my Crohn’s has historically been localized to the ileum. Now that my ileum, about a meter’s worth of small intestine, is gone the question is will my Crohn’s flare up somewhere else?
That’s it in a nutshell. I’m managing to deal with the appliance pretty well so far with only a couple mishaps (one in the doctor’s office) and I’m looking forward to returning to work soon.
Of course, I’ll keep blogging about my experience in the hopes of helping someone else with the same or similar situation. There’s always hope folks and we are all in this together.
On a side note, I had an interesting experience that was repeated with three nurses as they prepared to give me an injection in the back of my arm. It went something like this:
“Left or right arm?” the nurse asks.
“Doesn’t matter. Left.” I reply.
“Okay,” takes my arm to prepare the injection site. Stops and says, “oh, I’m not sure what this is. Is there a tumor in your arm? Or is that your tricep?”
“I hope it’s my tricep.”
“Yes, I guess it is. Not used to seeing a tricep like this. Very impressive.”
Now, I can’t be sure if the comment – from three different nurses – means I have an oddly shaped tricep or if they just don’t expect a relatively well developed tricep on a…ahem…mature man (though I think it’s looking pretty puny right now). I’ll go with the latter as it makes me feel better about myself. You have to look for the positive in every situation after all.