Former active duty Marine who went from 170 lbs to 328 lbs and decided that he had to change his life or die. He lost 130 lbs in 1 year through Whole30 and adopting the Paleo Diet without doing any exercise at all. Since starting running, he's lost an additional 20 lbs and is comfortably back in the 170 lbs range. He is a Warrant Officer in the Army National Guard and writes multiple blogs about topics he is passionate about.
It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come, or how much progress we’ve made unless we remind ourselves. This is important, not for vanity’s sake, but for motivation. It’s hard to work at something that has no real end state when you don’t have feedback on your progress. This is especially true for me, as I’m not working toward a target weight, a target strength goal, or a target run time. I am working toward the never-ending and always-moving target of staying fit, staying healthy, and keeping old age at bay.
What I’ve found does help me, however, is to take any small victory I can and celebrate it. This morning as I got ready for work, I walked into the closed to pick out a shirt to wear for the day as I do every day I go into the office. This time, my eye was drawn to a shirt I always liked to wear, but have been unable to due to weight gain/swelling after my surgery. I tried to put this shirt on about a month ago and could barely get it buttoned over my midsection. It made me sad, and honestly, left me kind of depressed for a few weeks afterward. I was terrified that this new body shape might become a new normal.
Well, after seeing the changes in how my trousers fit, I decided to give the shirt a try. I pulled it off the rack and took the shirt off the hanger. As I put my arm into the sleeve, I braced myself for disappointment. I watched carefully in the mirror as I buttoned each button, and to my surprise and pleasure, I was able to not only get the shirt buttoned all the way, but it fit properly. Not too loose, not too tight; just as it used to fit prior to my surgery. There was one change, however, but this is one that I will happily accept: my arms fill out the upper sleeves a bit more. If I flex, my arm fills the shirt completely and actually stretches it.
So, I’m gaining access to much more of my wardrobe. Fortunately, I like the clothes in my closet, so I will actually wear them all again. It’s amazing how much better I feel about myself, my health, my fitness progress, and life in general. I shouldn’t be so concerned with my body shape, but honestly, as someone in the military whose career partly depends on my physical fitness and adherence to height/weight regulations, it is always in the back of my mind.
I had an outstanding lifting session and run yesterday, and afterward, Sherry and I went out to eat some Indian food and I ate a spicy Vindaloo that was phenomenal. This morning, I tried a new Paleo-friendly cereal with a coconut/almond milk blend, and it was quite tasty (although I ate too much of it; a little bit of this “cereal” goes a long way).
I am actually looking forward to my lifting and run tomorrow afternoon, as it’s getting fun again. I finally got past the “Getting back into it” phase and I think I’ve psychologically and physically moved into the “This is fun; let’s keep building” phase.
Seeing and feeling the fruits of my labors realized by being able to wear this shirt really has helped me immensely. I’m glad I took a chance on this shirt. Oh, I think it looks pretty snazzy, too, so there’s a bonus.
It’s funny. Progress is slow and hard to see until you see it. In my case, until I feel it.
When I look in the mirror, I see myself as overweight. I know it’s a problem in my head, and I fight against it, but the fact is that I’m about 20 lbs heavier than I should be. I struggle with that, and I’m working on it. I have some plans I’ll be implementing soon, but it’s too early to discuss now. With that said, I have felt depressed about my physical condition since my surgery, but it’s been getting better.
I’ve been getting stronger. Using StrongLifts 5×5, I’ve been making steady progress. I’m finally getting into weights that are heavier and the workouts are no longer easy, but they’re not too difficult, either. I feel happy with my progress, which has been steady and on-schedule. If I have any disappointment, it’s that I don’t always get 3 sessions in each week.
I’ve been getting slightly faster on my runs, too. I’ve been sticking to 2-mile runs because I want to concentrate more on strength and body composition than on my run times, but also because my run times are now at a point where I can pass an ACFT. I won’t blaze the track, but I will come in before the time limit.
As for how I feel, I have to admit that I am feeling better. I still have the old man pains in my shoulders every now and then, and a weird pain in my back on the left side, but they are very intermittent. When I wear my jeans, they fit well. I’ve gone in a belt hole on my belt, and I’m close to closing in another belt hole soon. My shirts aren’t as tight as they were after my surgery which means that the swelling is down, but also that my waist is shrinking. I’m not back in my 32’s just yet, but I can squeeze into them if necessary.
So, progress is happening… it’s just taking it’s sweet time. As an impatient fellow, it’s not an easy pill to swallow, but the bright side is that progress continues to happen. I’m not stagnating. Any progress is good progress.
People say that it is hard to start a new lifestyle. I used to believe that it’s even harder to restart when you had a good run but had to stop for some reason. While I never stopped eating well and paying attention to my diet, I did have to stop exercising for two months as I recovered from my surgery and that led me to some serious anxiety over my ability to get fit again.
Going into the surgery, my biggest fear wasn’t the pain, the discomfort, or even the recovery. I wasn’t even afraid of dying. I was most afraid of the hard work it would take to get back into shape, to get back to being able to pass the ACFT.
I realized too late that our thoughts are very impactful on the outcomes of our efforts. I made it out to be so hard and difficult, and that progress would be slow and cumbersome. And, to no surprise, it was. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that it was only being slow and cumbersome because I had predisposed my mind to believing it was so. I seemed to forget that I didn’t get into top physical form in mere weeks; it took months of hard work, day after day.
I wish I could say I realized this sooner than I did, but honestly, it’s something that came to me today. I was looking back on my progress (I write down and track my physical fitness results) and realized that I’m making progress at the same rate I did the first time I decided to get fit again. I’m not making slower progress; I am making progress.
I also made another realization: even if that progress was, in fact, slower, it’s better than no progress. Every bit of progress is movement in the right direction and preferable to no progress. Seeing the lines in the graphs trending upward was a good wake up call for me to stop being negative and start embracing the progress and how awesome that is.
Right now, my goal is to lift weights, do my crunches, pull-ups, and run three times a week. On the “off” days, my plan is to ride my mountain bike for about 45 minutes to an hour (at an easy pace that keeps my heart in the 140-145 bpm range). The reality is that I’ve been lifting about twice a week and riding my bike once or twice. I need to fix that with re-dedicating myself to my fitness, and to motivate myself to keep going.
I lifted/ran on Monday, and rode my bike yesterday (without a crash for the first time in four bike rides). Tonight, after work, I will lift and run again. I know it’s going to be tough, and I will be a little tired, but I am motivated by my progress thus far considering the lackluster effort. When I think back on the progress I made before, it was because I was very strict about the 3x a week lifting/running regimen. Now, adding the biking in at least twice a week in conjunction with the 3x lifting and running, I should be just fine for my military service this fall.
It’s easy to think negatively. Starting anything at all is the hardest part of doing it. A fellow blogger said that long runs were much better after they were done, and it’s true; I typically don’t really enjoy running while I’m in the act of running. I sometimes even dread running before I start. But once I start, it’s just a matter of time and effort before I’m done, and once the run is over, I feel great.
I felt defeated, angry, and upset. It was the first time in five years that I had to cut a run short due to pain. I was annoyed and I had negative thoughts almost all the way home. I felt like a failure.
After about a half mile of walking, I decided to try running again to see if the pain was still there; it was not. But I stopped running and continued walking that last mile home. I didn’t want to re-injure it, or make it worse. I figured I’d give it time to heal for my next run.
I thought about it a lot on that walk home, and after I let the anger and frustration go, I thought objectively about where I was in my fitness journey. I was still just weeks into getting back into it after a major surgery. I was pushing myself harder than I should again; something I told myself I wouldn’t do. I needed to dial it back a bit and allow my body time to adjust and strengthen at it’s own speed.
My next scheduled run was supposed to be yesterday, but a lack of sleep the night before kept me from exercising. I have found that every time I’ve injured myself in the gym or on the road has been after nights where I didn’t get enough sleep, so I’ve learned that it’s better to skip a day if I’m not rested than to push it and risk an injury which could set me back.
Last night, I still got to bed later than I wanted to, but I felt rested when I woke up. I feel motivated to lift weights and to run later today, and I’m actually looking forward to it. I’ve been making great progress with my pull-ups and sit-ups. I’m up to 10 assisted pull-ups and 125 sit-ups. For someone who had their abdominal muscles sewn back together just two months ago, that’s pretty good.
My strength in weightlifting has also been improving steadily and safely without discomfort. StrongLifts 5×5 really does work, and it’s a great beginner program. Coupled with my own fitness program, I will definitely be ready for WOBC in October/November.
Setbacks happen. Sometimes they’re serious, and other times, they’re minor. Either way, the hardest part is getting over the psychological damage those setbacks cause, and getting “Back up on that horse.” We’ve all heard the motivational phrases, so I’ll spare you that here. But, I do use those motivational phrases on myself. I start repeating them over and over until I believe them. I motivate myself by reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to exercise, to be able to lift weights, to be able to get out on the road and run. There are so many people who can’t do that for one reason or another, especially at my age. But here I am, suiting up, hitting the gym, and then going out in the heat and getting it done. Even if I’m slow, I’m not on the couch. I haven’t surrendered, and I never will.
I will always work to be better today than I was yesterday, whether that’s in how I deal with people, my diet, or my fitness. I just want to continue to be better. Sure, I’ll hit roadblocks and setbacks, but I’ll never quit. I may lose a battle, but I will not lose the war. I may have cut a run short this week, but that won’t be my last run. I will keep going, and I will keep running.
I really didn’t want to work out or run today. I was actually dreading it. I had ZERO motivation, and all I could think about was not doing anything. But the more I thought about skipping today, the worse I felt. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of skipping my workout, and with allowing myself to skip it.
Because the guilt would eat me up, I went ahead and suited up and went upstairs and did my usual StrongLifts 5×5 workout along with 8 assisted pull-ups, one unassisted pull-up, and 80 sit-ups.
After the gym workout, I hit the road for a three-mile run. I wasn’t fast by any stretch, but I was consistent and I got it done. I was tired, but again, not sore. I didn’t feel bad, just worn-out.
I showered and relaxed for a bit and then had dinner with Sherry. She made Paleo Pizza, and afterward, we split a Crave 007 cupcake. It was the perfect dessert for one of my favorite dinners.
The most rewarding part? Knowing that I got my workout and run done. I didn’t allow myself to skip, and I stayed consistent with my workouts. I have to make sure I’m ready for my military training in October, and I lost a bit of my speed and stamina due to the surgery, so consistency and determination are going to get me back to where I need to be.
The hardest part of working out is getting started; getting past the self-doubt, the laziness, and the ease of sitting around and not working out. I get it. I am there more often than not lately because it’s hard to get back into shape. But my health and fitness are more important to me than the slow death of comfort. I prefer the active lifestyle, and I prefer staying fit. It was totally worth the effort today.
Like I said in an earlier post, this time around with my fitness and diet, I decided to forego weighing myself. While before it motivated me, lately, it’s been demotivating. Ever since I started weightlifting, my weight has gone up even though I was much stronger, getting slimmer, and smaller in the waist. Whenever I would weigh myself, I would feel bad, even though every other indicator said I was doing great.
So, no more scale.
I’ve been back at exercising for three weeks now, and back to weightlifting for two weeks, and I finally was able to comfortably go down a belt hole. I also notice my pants feel better. My stomach still has a weird bulge to it due to the sewing of the muscles together, but I’m told this will go away as I continue to do my workouts.
Speaking of workouts, I’m making steady progress in the amount of weights lifted, number of sit-ups, and number of assisted pull-ups. The progress I’m making right now is actually very refreshing, and I actually enjoy my workouts. My runtimes are still not great, but I’m still making slight progress every time, which keeps me motivated.
I am sure I’d be making better progress if I were to be stricter with my diet, but once again, I’ve been sidetracked with social events where alcoholic beverages are imbibed by all in attendance. Not wanting to be rude, or to draw attention to my diet, I just partake. Since I’m working out daily, I know I can withstand some increased caloric intake from the alcohol with minimal impact, so I’ve allowed it. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is. As a friend says often, “Decisions were made.”
I’m finding victories all the time right now, and it’s motivating. Not looking at the scale helps a lot, too. I’m not starving myself which helps with the exercise. I’m trying to get enough sleep and to keep my body fueled for the workouts, and so far, it feels like it’s working.
I’ve been asked why I run outside when it’s so hot, and why I don’t run on my treadmill indoors during the heat. It’s because I need to make sure my body is prepared and able to run during the worst conditions at all times. As a member of the military, I won’t get the privilege of dictating my environmental conditions during exercise or operations (combat or otherwise). If I can exercise in the worst of conditions, then operating in any condition not as severe will be much easier for me.
I don’t over-hydrate before runs, either. I never have. Why? Same reason; my body is accustomed to running at my normal hydration levels (and I admittedly stay well-hydrated throughout the day). If I run for anything more than an hour, then I’ll definitely drink before a run, and I’ll drink water with DropDrop ORS in it to replenish electrolytes and other nutrients, but for a normal workout? One half of a banana before exercise followed by another half of a banana is all I really need.
I must stress that when I run in the heat, I dial back the intensity. The hotter it is, the more I dial it back. My goal becomes completing the distance, not making a pace or time. When it cools down (under 83 degrees or so), I push myself harder because my body is able to utilize sweating to cool down enough, but otherwise, if it’s really hot out, I literally just take it easy and pay attention to any warning signs that may appear (no longer sweating, feeling dizzy, headache). If any of those symptoms come up (and they haven’t yet), then I will stop and seek shade, water, and assistance.
I also only run on the “Track” around the lake in front of my house when it’s very hot out. That way, if I need help for any reason, I’m no more than 100 yards from my home at any time. It’s also a very visible area, so if I were to go down, I’d be seen pretty quickly.
Another thing I do is run with LiveTrack on my Garmin Forerunner 945 watch. This watch sends out a beacon to my wife, daughter, and son and let’s them know I’m exercising, and provides them with a link to actually watch my progress as I run. If the device detects that I’ve fallen, my heart rate become erratic, or that I’ve stopped quickly with no further input, it notifies them and tells them there’s a problem.
I have found in the past that running in the extreme heat, while not very fun or comfortable, has prepared me well for cooler weather. Since I am needing to be ready for the ACFT in October, I don’t have the luxury of taking time off during the hottest times. “Then why don’t you use the treadmill in the A/C?” For a few reasons.
First, I vary my pace. Everyone does, actually, when running outdoors. I prefer being able to adjust my pace on the fly without needing to push buttons and trying to match a pace with how well I feel. I find that when building speed and stamina, it’s much more important that I can push my pace here and there naturally when my body feels like it’s up for it versus running a single pace for a long time. My treadmill is smart and has some workouts built in, but they’re not organic. I base my running pace and effort on how I feel. If I am energetic, I will push it. If I’m tired, I can dial it back.
Second, I have a hard time focusing and staying motivated to complete runs on the treadmill. I’ve watched movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, and music videos while I ran to try to keep me distracted long enough to complete a run, but my mind doesn’t accept it. It becomes drudgery, and I end up lowering the pace just to get through it and I don’t get as good of a workout with it.
So, running in the heat, it is. The kicker is that my runs follow a weightlifting session in my gym, so every time I go out and run, it means I’ve already completed my weightlifting and pull-ups/sit-ups/push-ups.
I never planned for my workouts to be structured this way, but when I tried to lift weights and run on alternating days, I found my muscles didn’t have a chance to recover (since every day is leg day for me). When I combined the weightlifting and the run days and allowed for recovery days in between, my progress became much better and I experienced far less fatigue and pain in my muscles. It turned out to be fortuitous: the Army Combat Fitness Test is a 6-event test that combines strength and cardio. My fitness plan actually compliments this well.
So, when you see me running in the heat, know that I’m being safe, and that there are many good reasons for it. I take my job as a Soldier in the Army National Guard very seriously, and I feel that I need to be as prepared as I can be physically and mentally. Running in the heat helps me stay prepared and ensures that I can be relied upon to accomplish any task put before me.
I had lost 130 lbs over the course of a year, but when I looked in the mirror, I saw a much thinner version of me, but also a much softer version of me than I remembered. I had no muscles and even my face was still puffy and round. I had come to the realization that I needed to do something besides just eating right. I had to start exercising.
I was 49 years old, and I knew that I couldn’t count on my body to be as resilient as it was in my 20’s and 30’s. I did a lot of reading and discovered that the key to healthy and meaningful progress was recovery time. For each day of exercise, there needed to be a recovery day.
I incorporated this into my fitness plan, and I set out to get fit. I didn’t expect to get great results, but I did. I didn’t expect it to be relatively painless, but it was. I didn’t expect to improve my fitness dramatically within three months, but I did.
The PaleoMarine Fitness Plan
This is what I did to go from unfit to fit in three months. This is the plan I used to go from barely being able to do 3 push-ups to 100 in two minutes within three months. This is the plan I used to go from walking for 30 minutes to running 3 miles in 24 minutes.
The first element of my plan is to go slow but stay consistent. This is key. Many fitness plans have you push “110%” and give max effort. When you’re young, or if you’re already in good shape, this isn’t so much a problem, but when you’re over 40 or 50 and starting out? This could spell disaster and derail you before you even got going.
I started with push-ups. I did as many as I could until my arms STARTED feeling strain. You will know the difference between a push-up that feels comfortable and one that requires strain. This goes against what a lot of “Gym rats” will recommend, but trust me; it works. I started with 3 push-ups. Then, I waited a day, and did another set of push-ups. That second time, I was able to do 5. I stayed at 5 for the next two times until I was able to do 7. Then 10. Then 15. My push-up count started ramping very quickly until I reached the 50’s. Then, I hit a bit of a wall until I got to 70’s and then ramped quickly again. Eventually, I was doing over 100 in two minutes.
After a month of doing push-ups, I started walking briskly for 30 minutes. That brisk walk turned into a slow jog which transitioned into a fast jog/slow run. Eventually, I was running sub-8 minute miles, and I was no longer running to increase my pace but to increase the distance ran within that 30 minutes. After some time, even 30 minutes wasn’t enough, and my runs would last in excess of 45 minutes.
After a year of running and push-ups, I added weightlifting, specifically the StrongLifts 5×5 program. It’s geared towards people getting into weightlifting for functional strength. It’s not a body-building program. This program makes you stronger so you can handle life’s challenges more easily. This is exactly what I wanted, and I made amazing progress on this program.
I had to stop a few times due to injuries, but each time, when I got back into my fitness plan, I did it slowly, and I did it consistently. I made sure I got enough sleep, and I got rest-days.
The Nuts and Bolts
Here’s what a normal week looks like for me:
Monday: StrongLifts 5×5 (A), pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, and a run (right now, that’s 2 miles)
Tuesday: Official rest day, but I usually go mountain biking for about 40-45 minutes
Wednesday: StrongLifts 5×5 (B), pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, and a run
Thursday: Official rest day, but like Tuesday, I try to get out on the mountain bike.
Friday: StrongLifts 5×5 (A), pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, and a run
Saturday/Sunday: Rest days, but I try to get out on the mountain bike, the kayak, or go for a hike.
Let’s talk about the pull-ups. When I started, I couldn’t do a single one. I bought some assistance bands on Amazon and started using those. I eventually was able to work up to 7 non-assisted pull-ups before my surgery. Now, I’m back to not being able to do any, but I’ve gone from 3 assisted to 7 assisted in a week. I will keep working at them until I’m at 10 un-assisted pull-ups. That’s my goal. I usually start off my workout sessions with the pull-ups
Sit-ups: I always had difficulty doing these when my stomach muscles were split. My surgery involved sewing my stomach muscles back together, and now I’m able to do sit-ups much more easily. Having the muscles work together as designed has made a huge difference. I started with 50 last week and I’m up to 75 right now. I typically do 10-15 between my squats during the StrongLifts 5×5 sessions.
Barbell curls: these are something I added to my workout for no other reason than to bulk my biceps up a little bit. It doesn’t matter how strong I get, my biceps weren’t looking that great, so I started doing barbell curls about a year ago and it’s made a big difference in how my arms look. I’m not looking to bulk up, but I did want them to look a little better.
Push-ups: I used to do a rather sloppy version of push-ups when I began five years ago, but now I do the Army regulation push-up which is a very tight to the body stance where the hands are directly under the shoulders. These push-ups are harder and I likely won’t be able to do as many of them as I did with the old sloppy versions, but my goal here is to hit 50-60 in two minutes.
Sleep: this is super important. Make sure you get at least 8 hours of sleep before your workout days. Sleep impacts our energy levels during workouts immensely. Another tip I learned from one of my TAC Officers at WOCS was to eat half of a banana before a workout and eat the other half afterwards. This has gone a long way towards giving me more energy during the workouts and also helps the body recover afterward.
The bottom line
Will this plan work for you? Maybe. It worked for me, and honestly, that’s all I can attest to. Some people think it’s not working hard enough. If you feel that way, then add exercises or exercise on what I call rest days. Otherwise, this plan allowed me to get fit without pain, and pain is what discourages people from adopting new fitness plans. I made steady progress, and I went from being unfit to fit in three months, without excessive muscle pain. Was I sore? Sure, but there’s a big difference between pain and soreness. Soreness lets you know you worked out; pain is a problem that could need attention or a cessation of physical activity.
So, your mileage may vary, but this worked great for me. Let me know if you have any questions!
My fitness re-boot has been going a little slower than I’d hoped in the beginning, but if yesterday’s workout is any indication of how things will be going, then I’m really excited. I started with my StrongLifts 5×5 workout with 75 sit-ups (total) done between my squats and 7 assisted pull-ups (up from only 4 on Friday). I also did some barbell curls during and after the workout.
I then went out and ran 2 miles in the 95-degree heat. It wasn’t nearly as hard as it was on Friday, and that made me feel great. There was one point during the run where I actually felt okay. Not great, and nowhere near a “Runner’s High,” but I felt good. My first mile pace was also the fastest since my surgery, and my overall two-mile time was also the fastest.
What gave me the most hope, however, is how I felt afterward: I felt good. My limbs had that “Recently worked out” feeling to them, but I wasn’t in pain. More importantly, when I woke up this morning, I felt decent. Again, I still had the post-workout soreness, but nothing more.
That bodes well for the rest of the next three months as I prepare for Warrant Officer Basic Course (WOBC) in October. I need to be able to participate in daily PT, and I need to be at a decent level of fitness to not embarrass myself. Now, I’m confident I’ll get there.
Tomorrow, I will outline my fitness plan in detail. It’s something I developed through trial and error, and it’s a plan designed primarily for people over 50 (but truthfully, I think it’ll work for anyone and will even give better results for younger people). It’s been proven to work for me three times, and now on my fourth time, I’m seeing the same results already only three weeks in.
As planned, I hit my gym and began my workout with some pull-ups. I found that I could no longer do even one without pain in my upper abdomen, so I pulled out some assistance straps. I selected the largest one and with that, I was able to do 4. That left me a little discouraged, but as Sherry keeps pointing out, I had major surgery that sewed my core back together, so I need to be patient.
Next, I moved on to squats. The first few sets went well, and I was feeling good, but I was using an app that helps me keep track of my workouts, and it recommended a weight that was way too much for me. I thought, “Well, the app knows what I’m supposed to do, so I’ll follow it.” For my 4th set, the weight went up to 110 lbs which, in the past, was chump change. Yesterday? I completed the 3-rep set, but when I put the bar down, my legs were shaking. I didn’t push too far, but if I kept it up, my legs would be trash. I had to stop.
I contemplated completing the rest of the lifts, but I decided against it. My core and legs were wiped out, and a run was now completely out of the question. Could I have done it? Probably. Could I have injured myself on that run? Quite likely.
I’m still re-starting my exercise plan, and I have the luxury of taking it slow. I’m listening to my body more than ever, and I don’t have anything to prove to anyone but myself. While I was angry that I let an app tell me how much to lift (I’ve fixed that), I was angrier at myself that I didn’t question the weight increase.
I have reset the app completely, and my weights for lifting tomorrow will be where I need/want them to be: light. After my weightlifting, I’ll go out for a 2+ mile run. If I feel good, I’ll go for the “Plus;” otherwise, I’ll stop at 2. I’m not wanting to overdo it.
When I first started my exercise and fitness plan six years ago, I got into it slowly. Even with that slow start, within three months, I was doing really well; running fast, doing 120 push-ups within two minutes, and I generally felt great. Once I added weightlifting, I got much stronger, and daily tasks became much easier. I’m hoping for the same results with the same plan: start slow, have good rest periods between workouts, and continue deliberate progress.
So, while it didn’t go as planned, it at least got started. That is always the hardest part, and now, I have momentum. I am actually looking forward to tomorrow’s workout which is, in and of itself, a great victory.