Weightlifting and Strength (Making Progress)

It’s working

I was hopeful, much like when Sherry and I started our first Whole30, that it would work, but at the same time, I was not holding out too much hope. I did weightlifting in the past, and it always left me sore and unmotivated to continue. StrongLifts 5×5 changed that, and three weeks in, I’m seeing the results.

Do I have huge arms? Of course not; it’s only been use over three weeks. But I did notice yesterday that my arms do get “Swole” after a workout. I also noticed that my squats, which are now at 100 lbs, are even easier now than when I started at 45 lbs. I add 5 lbs to every workout which has left me with 15 lbs gain every week. My bench is not huge, but my deadlift is quickly approaching my body weight, and I’m able to do it without straining or being hurt or sore afterward. That’s huge!

I’ve also noticed that I am able to carry “things” around with ease now. My own backpack for work is loaded down with an extra laptop now, and honestly, it feels just fine. I weighed it: 22 lbs. That’s not HUGE, but it is quite heavy for a normal work backpack load, yet for me, it feels perfectly fine.

If I’m doing this well after just over three weeks, I can’t wait to see where I’m at after three months, and then six months, and so-on.

The Rewards of Training

Me and a fellow Combat Advisor firing the M2 .50 cal (12.7mm) machine gun.

A lot of the training I do in the National Guard benefits me as a civilian; as a person. Although I was doing training on thermal optics on crew served weapons (large machine gun’s that require more than one person to operate), we also did physical training. On top of the PT, we also had to carry and handle these heavy weapons. The M2 I’m firing in the photo above weighs 84 lbs, and the tripod it’s on weighs 45 lbs. The boxes carrying the M2’s held two M2’s per box.

We lifted, carried, and otherwise dragged those boxes around for three days, and while I was a little sore afterward, I was not nearly as wiped out as I would have otherwise been had I not been weightlifting for the past three weeks. Aside from that, moving the weight around felt good, and being strong enough to do so without straining or extra effort was a wonderful feeling.

For the PT, I couldn’t participate in the 4-mile run on the first day due to my Achille’s heel injury, but on the second day, we did a circuit training that included kettlebell swings, farmer’s carry, release push-ups, burpees, and squats with a medicine ball. I was able to do all those, and I did them not only well, but at least as good as, if not better than a lot of the other soldiers. I don’t know if it was my conditioning or my willpower, but either way, I was not the weakest by a long shot.

Motivation for weight loss and motivation for fitness may be different for you as it is for me. My motivation to lose weight was to improve my health, while my motivation for fitness is to be able to perform better as a Combat Advisor in the National Guard. It’s rewarding to experience the benefits of all that work during a training evolution, and it further motivates me to keep going, keep pushing, keep getting stronger.

Third Week of Weightlifting

Yesterday was the beginning of week 3 of my weightlifting on the StrongLifts 5×5 program. So far, it’s been a really fun trip. I’m still learning and perfecting my form (I found out yesterday that my bench form and barbell row forms were not great), but at least the newbie pain is gone. Now, I get a good muscle burn when I’m done, but not nearly as bad as that first week.

I find myself actually looking forward to working out in a way I never have before, even when I was doing my most intense and best running. I never thought I’d enjoy weightlifting, but here I am. I actually wish I could do it 6 days a week, but that’s not good for you and can actually be counter-productive. So, I do light exercise on the rest days and go all-in on my workout days.

As for progress, I’m doing well. I’m making micro-increases (5 lbs/session) so I’ve done the following:

Starting: 45lbs
Current: 75lbs

Bench Press
Starting 45 lbs
Current: 60 lbs

Starting: 95 lbs
Current: 115 lbs

Overhead Press
Starting: 45 lbs
Current: 55 lbs

Barbell Row
Starting: 65 lbs
Current: 80 lbs

So, I’m no Arnold, but it’s just been two weeks. I can already feel minor changes in my arms and back, but I’ve made big progress in my strength. Lifting things has become easier already, and climbing stairs is easier now than it was when I was at the height of my running.

The Difference Between Ordinary and Extraordinary

Me during a rare down-time moment at this year’s Annual Training.

People tell me all the time that what I’ve accomplished in the past four years is extraordinary. That made me think. What is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary? It’s the “Extra.”

Think about it. Most people get ordinary physical activity. They walk a bit here and there, and maybe even strive to hit the 10,000 step goal they have on their Garmin or Fitbit. But are they getting anything out of it? Do you see these 10k steppers getting fit? Lean? Losing weight?

Extraordinary effort is typically necessary when it comes to getting fit. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is “Extra.” To get fit, you need to do the extra work: run, jog, lift weights, ride a bike, hike, do cardio videos, etc. You can’t just do the ordinary and not take the extra effort.

The same holds true to your diet. Eating ordinary food (fast food, pre-prepared foods, foods high in carbs, etc) won’t help you lose weight and be healthy. You need to put in the extra effort and actually make your food from whole ingredients, and maybe even do some food prep.

You have it in you to be extraordinary. Your story can be extraordinary. Your journey to health and fitness can be extraordinary. You just have to do the “Extra.”

The New Normal

Me resting between sets of squats. Buddy is on the floor and keeps me company while I work out.

For me, the new normal is eating food that complies with The Paleo Diet and weightlifting. Four years ago, my new normal was my first Whole30.

What’s amazing to me about this entire process is how much I’ve learned not only about diet and exercise, but about myself and my ability to do things I set my mind to. I’ve greatly exceeded my own expectations, and I’m still taken aback when people refer to what I’ve done in the past four years as extraordinary.

I’m not super man. I’m not super-human. I didn’t use any mind tricks or mind hacks I learned in the Marines. I wasn’t born with some innate ability to power through difficulties. This was all learned. Through it all, one thing I read has echoed through my head. “If you really want something, you have to ask yourself if that desire matches the desire you would have for air if you were held underwater for two minutes. If the answer is no, then you don’t want it badly enough.”

In July 2015, I had reached the point where I wanted change in my life as much as a person being held underwater for two minutes wants air. I wanted to breathe. I wanted to live. And I knew that if I didn’t change something (and soon!), I would die. This was my last, best chance at reversing a life-long trend of eating without any concern for my health and mortality. This was my Hail Mary pass.

It worked.

After completing my first Whole30, I found myself clean from a sugar addiction (don’t think it’s real? Try to go without eating anything with sugar in it for three days and get back with me) and 20 lbs lighter. My head was the clearest it’d been in many years, and for the first time, I found that I didn’t feel hungry, angry, or bored with my diet. I had found hope.

Within three months, my wife and I accepted our new normal. It included food prep, eating foods made from whole ingredients, and thinking about food as fuel. We talked about exercise and fitness, and while she started walking and doing some exercise programs, I held out. I wanted to wait until I lost 100 lbs to save my joints (doctor recommended, actually). But I kept to the diet and portion sizes and continued losing 10-12 lbs a month steadily.

Once I lost 130 lbs, I started walking, then jogging, and eventually running. I had implemented exercise as part of my new normal, and it felt great. I had a goal to work towards: getting back into the military. That meant losing more weight and getting in shape to pass a physical fitness test. Once again, I did it.

My home gym continues to grow much to Sherry’s chagrin.

Three years later, my new normal is weightlifting and The Paleo Diet. In October, I’ll be back to running again (I’m really hoping my Achilles heel injury is healed by then) when I do a 5k in Montreal and continue to prepare for a 5k we do in December every year (another new normal). These are all things that I never could have imagined would be normal for me at all.

Keep your mind open. Seek out and search for ways to live healthier and fitter. Don’t accept feeling tired and lethargic. Don’t accept being overweight. Don’t accept not being able to climb stairs without becoming winded or having to hold your breath while tying your shoes. Find your new normal. A new healthier normal. Your life will be richer (and likely longer) for doing so. I did it, and I’m not special. I’m a regular person just like you who found a reason to find a new normal.

Use the Energy You Need to Succeed

Right now, I’m angry. I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, and I saw something I didn’t like: my stomach isn’t as firm as it has been for years. It’s not that I’ve gained a lot of weight; I haven’t really gained anything in the past year. But, for the past year, I’ve been heavier than I like. Regardless of how much effort I’ve put into getting back down into the 160’s, it just hasn’t been working.

I’m making great progress with my weightlifting, but I’m losing progress with my running due to the Achille’s heel injury (and running being incompatible with the beginning weightlifting plan I’m doing right now). So, I’m not sweating off 350-400 calories per run.

Anger. It’s fueling my discipline. I feel like a Sith because I’m embracing my anger, but it’s an energy I’m harnessing for good.

Motivation comes from energy. Whether it’s positive, whether it’s not, it’s all something you can use to make progress. Think of it as fuel for success.

I’m making sure to eat proper portion sizes (the bane of my existence lately) and I’m going to continue keep working at weightlifting and focusing on my fitness. I will eventually get back to running when the heel heals, but until them, I need to make sure I keep eating right. The anger I feel at getting soft will help get me through.

The Journey to Better Health has Ups and Downs

I was thinking about this as I looked in the mirror this morning. I had a big meal last night and I’ve had somewhat bigger meals lately. I need to manage my portion sizes back down, but coupled with my inability to run (Achille’s heel injury) coupled with my recent weightlifting has left me looking a little less defined. It’s okay, I told myself, because another 5 weeks in the gym and I’ll see changes.

It’s a constant battle fighting against the doubt fairies that run amok in my mind. These are the same fairies that told me at the beginning of this journey four years ago that I’d never succeed. 130 lbs later and those same fairies told me I’d never be able to run fast enough to pass an APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test). The same fairies are telling me that this weightlifting thing is silly.

Like any journey, rarely is it all downhill or even a flat course. There are ups and downs, and it’s always easy to keep going when you’re coasting down-hill, but when you’re facing obstacles or a long climb, that’s when your determination and perseverance are tested. Much like when I was on my 6-mile ruck march earlier this month, seeing a big hill was a test of my will. I knew physically I could do it, but the question was could I do it quickly enough? I didn’t allow my brain to keep analyzing it and quickly diverted all processing power to another thought: was I going to take a long shower or a long bath when I got home from the SFAB assessment?

This morning, as I feel a bit pudgy and like I’m making progress in the wrong direction, I put my trust in the diet that’s brought me so much success and in the weight training plan I’ve been following. I know that results are never immediate; health and fitness are rarely a short-term gratification. You have to invest time and energy, and I’m at the very beginning of the process with weightlifting while well into it for overall health. I’m healthy, and I’m pretty happy with my weight, but I could stand to lose about 20 lbs. Yes, I said 20 lbs. Why? I felt most comfortable at that weight, and I’d like to get back to it. I will not starve myself or do anything stupid, though. I’m experienced enough to realize that sometimes goals aren’t realistic and our bodies change over time and decide what an ideal weight is based in food intake and physical output. I’m hoping that the weightlifting coupled with my healthy eating results in some changes in my appearance, namely getting rid of some of the extra skin in different areas around my body. I know I can’t make the skin go away, but perhaps muscle structure under it will improve its appearance.

I’m heading up-hill right now, but that’s okay. I know that eventually, I’ll reach a crest and then I can coast a bit. Or, as I found out during my last ruck, I can run down-hill to make up time. No need to rest when you can double-down on your energy investment!