My Role is Easy; Yours is Hard

My wife Sherry and I kayaking last month. All the hard work we’ve done gives us the freedom to do fun things like this.

My wife and I had an interesting discussion this morning over breakfast (smoked salmon, eggs, Paleo ranch sauce and avocados, or what she calls a Portland Slam) this morning. I was telling her that yesterday, I received a bunch of messages, texts, and even calls from people telling me how I inspire them, how I’ve motivated them, and how I’ve provided them with information to change their lives for the better. The part that was strange to me was how difficult it was to receive those compliments, and I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. Don’t get me wrong; it’s very nice and humbling to hear people say nice things like that. I do like it, like anyone else does. It feels good knowing you’ve made a positive impact on the lives of people. But yet, there’s a discomfort in it.

Sherry came up with a possible explanation, and I think it hits the nail on the head; “It’s because they are the ones who have to do the work. You just say or write things that they then have to put into action.” (Just so you know, I’m paraphrasing even though I put that into quotes) I agree with that, and I think that’s why I feel a little uneasy or embarrassed. I’ve done my heavy lifting. I’ve done the work. I’m now in maintenance, and although I still work hard at maintaining my health and fitness through diet and exercise, it’s relatively easy compared to the up-hill challenge I faced when undertaking this new lifestyle. Writing about it helps wrap my head around all of it, and helping people is my ultimate goal. I want people to be able to succeed without all the excessive products, pills, patches, procedures, and painful exercising by doing two simple things: change of diet, and mindful exercise.

Change of Diet

For me, it started with Whole30 and transitioned into the Paleo Diet. My wife and I have done six Whole30’s over the past five years to reset ourselves as we find it’s necessary from time to time to get back to basics. While Paleo works for us, others find that the Keto diet, Intermittent Fasting, One Meal a Day, or counting Calories In/Calories Out works for them. My site is heavily Paleo-centered, but that’s due to me writing from my own experience. Interchange Paleo with any other healthy diet, and you could possibly see the same results. Our bodies are all different, and it’s up to you to find what works best for you.

Mindful Exercise

This is the one many people miss. There’s still a misconception (fueled by the massive fitness industry) that if you exercise enough, you will lose weight. While this is technically true, you have to exercise A LOT to burn more calories than you take in if you don’t change your diet. How much exercise do you need to burn off a Big Mac? My average 2-mile run burns about 250 calories. The Big Mac has 563 calories. So, that’s over 4 miles necessary to burn off one Big Mac. Add in an entire days’ worth of calories (if you live on fast food or high-carb diets), and you can see where I’m going with this.

Mindful exercise is starting slowly and without pushing to your limits. Studies have shown that most people quit exercise programs due to discomfort. The way I started had no discomfort at all; I started with push-ups. I did as many as I could on the first day and stopped as soon as they became hard. How many push-ups was that? Three. Then, the next day, I did three more. On the third day, I could do five. Two months later, I was doing 120 push-ups in two minutes. Oh, and I did it without excessive arm pain.

Doing those push-ups led me to taking 30-minute walks. After three weeks, I found my pace had increased to the point where it was no longer difficult for me to walk quickly and I tried to jog to see how it’d feel. To my surprise, it felt incredibly good, and my body was ready for it. I never tried to improve my pace; I let it all happen naturally. Over the course of a month, I found that my pace had increased from a jog to a slow run. My times were getting sub-10 minutes per mile, and I wasn’t smoked or burned out afterward. I just ran for 30 minutes without paying attention to distance. After three months, I started running for distance instead of time, and my milage increased to over 3 miles per run (up to just around 5 miles).

Another key to mindful exercise is the concept of rest days. Too many people try to exercise five and six days a week. This is okay when you’re young (under 40, or so), but gets troublesome as we get older. Studies have shown that rest days are incredibly important for growth and recovery. I typically exercise 3 or 4 times a week, but I try to keep it at 3 minimum. The weight training I do (StrongLifts 5×5) is a whole-body workout, so I rest for a day after each workout. I also run after StrongLifts, so my legs get that rest day afterward as well. For younger people, as long as muscle groups are rotated, exercising 5-6 days a week can be fine, but resting those different muscle groups is very important to recovery and development.

80% max workouts are a final key to mindful exercise. Military special forces soldiers found that 80% workouts provide the same benefits as a 100% workout, and in some cases, more benefits for muscle growth, strength, and mobility. The reason they went to 80% workouts is to reduce muscle strain and to be able to answer the call of a mission after a workout. Working out to 100% makes your muscles weak, wobbly, and leaves you unable to perform basic tasks. Imagine a 100% leg day workout followed by a combat mission. You literally could get yourself or someone else killed because you’re no longer able to operate at peak efficiency. 80% workouts allow you to resume your normal life at normal operating strength and allows your muscles to heal and recover quicker. It also keeps pain away which is the number one cause of people quitting exercise programs.

Throughout this process, I never had excessively sore legs or muscle pain that made me want to quit. To the contrary, I found that if I skipped a run day, my legs would buzz and feel like they needed to run. I learned a lot of my process the hard way, and I am in no way saying that my way is the only way. I’m an older guy (53 years old as I write this), and for me, this plan has kept me in good physical fitness and at a healthy weight. I’m able to perform my tasks proficiently and to-standard in the National Guard, and I am within the height/weight regulations.

Final Thoughts

So, circling back around to receiving feedback; it’s welcome, and it’s appreciated, but honestly, YOU are the one who needs to be congratulated. If I’ve made a difference and inspired or motivated you to get healthy, to change your diet, and/or to get fit, then YOU did the work. YOU got past the negative thoughts, the doubts, and the discomfort of changing your lifestyle and YOU made that change happen. So CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU! Keep up the good work, and keep it up! YOU will be the one inspiring and motivating someone else to make that positive change in your life, and then the cycle will continue.

I’m 53 and I Passed the Army Combat Fitness Test. Twice.

Me leading the recovery drill at WOCS last weekend.

The new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) which recently replaced the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) is a gruelling six-event test that contains the following exercises:

  • Repetition Strength Deadlift;
  • Standing Power Throw;
  • Arm Extension Push-Up;
  • 250-Meter Sprint, Drag, Carry;
  • Leg Tuck; and.
  • The 2-mile Run.

Currently, there is a lot of fear and, in some cases, anger over the new ACFT. Many complain that the six-event test is too difficult. The ACFT no longer makes allowances based on age or gender; all Soldiers must pass to the same standard depending on their MOS (job). The three standards are Moderate, Significant, and Heavy. Admittedly, my MOS only needs to meet the Moderate standard, but with the only exceptions being my run (which I missed by 16 seconds) and my pull-ups (I did 4), I met the Heavy standard across all events on my second APFT.

How was I able to do what so many Soldiers are having difficulty with? Some explanations come to mind. First, we all knew this test was coming over a year in advance. I started weightlifting over a year ago. I followed my weightlifting sessions with a run. At first, it was difficult because weightlifting is a strength exercise while running is cardio, and the two are at odds with each other. However, to survive the battlefield, you have to be good at both, so I trained hard to be good at both. A year later, it turned out I was right. My legs weren’t nearly as “Smoked,” or tired as many other Soldiers. I remember one Soldier saying to me after the first five events, “My legs are so tired; how am I going to run 2 miles?” In my mind, I was thinking, “The hard part is over; now it’s time for an easy run.”

Second, the weightlifting I do is nothing crazy, special, or hard. I started with the StrongLifts 5×5 program, and I started by lifting an empty Olympic bar (45 lbs). A year later, I’m benching 135 lbs, my squats are at 150 lbs, and my deadlift is at 230 lbs. I also added pull-ups, but that was about a month before my first ACFT. I was unable to do the required leg tucks due to bad form, but with more work on pull-ups and learning proper form, I was able to do 4 on my second ACFT. On the first, I was able to successfully complete the temporary alternate event for the leg-tuck which is a 2-minute plank.

The higher standards are definitely harder to achieve and require even more work and effort, but the Significant and Heavy standards are generally reserved for combat arms MOS’s. Were I to remain a 13J (Fire Direction NCO), I would have to meet the Heavy standard. Fortunately, as I’m currently training towards becoming a 131A (Targeting Officer), the Moderate standard is what I need to achieve.

Why do I bring this up? Because I keep seeing people posting online about how difficult the ACFT is, and how hard it is to prepare for it. For the record, I disagree with one caveat: it can definitely be difficult for those in the Reserves or the National Guard because access to free weights or a gym is an added expense and takes up more time. Active Duty Soldiers can typically use some of their work day for time in the gym, and access to the on-base gyms are free. This is a differentiation that should not be overlooked. I have my own gym with free weights in my home which make this much easier for me than for the average Guardsman.

With the proper training, the ACFT is still a challenge to meet, but is not impossible. To the contrary, if a Soldier meets the levels of fitness they should be at, the ACFT should be nothing more than an easy day outside with a nice run at the end. I’m 53 and I can do it.

For reference, here is the six-event matrix with points and their corresponding values.

MDL: Maximum Deadlift
SPT: Standing Power Throw
HRP: Hand-Release Push-ups
SDC: Spring-Drag-Carry
LTK: Leg Tuck
2MR: 2-mile Run

PointsMDLSPTHRPSDCLTK2MR
10034012.5601:332013:30
99 12.4591:36 13:39
98 12.2581:391913:48
9733012.1571:41 13:57
96 11.9561:431814:06
95 11.8551:45 14:15
9432011.6541:461714:24
93 11.5531:47 14:33
9231011.3521:481614:42
91 11.2511:49 14:51
9030011.0501:501515:00
89 10.9491:51 15:09
8829010.7481:521415:18
87 10.6471:53 15:27
8628010.4461:541315:36
85 10.3451:55 15:45
8427010.1441:561215:54
83 10.0431:57 16:03
822609.8421:581116:12
81 9.7411:59 16:21
802509.5402:001016:30
79 9.4392:01 16:39
782409.2382:02916:48
77 9.1372:03 16:57
762308.9362:04817:06
75 8.8352:05 17:15
742208.6342:06717:24
73 8.5332:07 17:33
722108.3322:08617:42
71 8.2312:09 17:51
702008.0302:10518:00Minimum for “heavy” jobs.
69 7.8282:14 18:12
681907.5262:18418:24
67 7.1242:22 18:36
66 6.8222:26 18:48
651806.5202:30319:00Minimum for “significant”  jobs.
641706.2182:35 19:24
631605.8162:40 19:48
621505.4142:45220:12
61 4.9122:50 20:36
601404.5103:00121:00Minimum for “moderate” jobs.
59   3:01 21:01
58   3:02 21:03
57   3:03 21:05
56   3:04 21:07
55 4.493:05 21:09
54   3:06 21:10
53   3:07 21:12
52   3:08 21:14
51   3:09 21:16
501304.383:10 21:18
49     21:19
48   3:11 21:21
47     21:23
46   3:12 21:25
45 4.27  21:27
44   3:13 21:28
43     21:30
42   3:14 21:32
41     21:34
401204.163:15 21:36
39     21:37
38   3:16 21:39
37     21:41
36   3:17 21:43
35 4.05  21:45
34   3:18 21:46
33     21:48
32   3:19 21:50
31     21:52
301103.943:20 21:54
29     21:55
28   3:21 21:57
27     21:59
26   3:22 22:01
25 3.83  22:03
24   3:23 22:04
23     22:06
22   3:24 22:08
21     22:10
201003.723:25 22:12
19     22:13
18   3:26 22:15
17     22:17
16   3:27 22:19
15 3.61  22:21
14   3:28 22:22
13     22:24
12   3:29 22:26
11     22:28
10903.5 3:30 22:30
9     22:31
8   3:31 22:33
7     22:35
6   3:32 22:37
5 3.4   22:39
4   3:33 22:40
3     22:42
2   3:34 22:44
1     22:46
0803.303:35022:48

Resilience

It’s a theme we talk about a lot in the military, because resilience is what gets you through some of the toughest and darkest times. Strategies like compartmentalization and finding the nuggets of good within the difficulties are strategies they teach us to get past some of the bad things we see on the battlefield and elsewhere. Resilience is not something just for military people; it’s very important for anyone embarking upon a new healthy lifestyle.

There are times when you will start craving foods you used to enjoy before but should be avoiding. A resilience strategy I use is to find something else I enjoy that is compliant with my diet and enjoy it instead. Case in point: I used to like having a chocolate snack every now and then. I also love apples, so whenenver I get a craving for something sweet, I first try to determine if it’s really hunger or just boredom. If it’s real hunger, I’ll go for the apple. Would I enjoy a chocolate? Sure! But it would also be a sabotage snack, so I instead go for an apple.

Our diet is closely connected to our happiness, and for some people, completely changing a diet can be depressing. This was especially true for me, as I used to love to eat mass quantities. When I eat now, I take comfort in knowing that the right-sized portions are better for me, and I slow down my eating to draw it out a little more (something I can’t really do at WOCS right now which causes me to over-eat quite a bit as the portions are on the large side compared to what I normally eat). When I’m done eating and would normally have taken a second or third serving, I instead drink some black coffee, hot tea, or water.

Resilience is what gets you through challenges. We have to bend and not break. It’s a tough skill to perfect, and I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I need a conscious reminder to be resilient. Heck, I needed that reminder this weekend, and I was also reminded to focus on the right things and not to get too focused on a minor thing. This lesson holds true in all aspects of our lives, and especially with health and fitness. Too often, people starting a new diet spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the foods they can no longer have instead of focusing on all the delicious favorite foods they can still enjoy. It’s all about harnessing any positive energy you have and letting that grow.

I was challenged last month at WOCS and there were a few times when I was emotionally drained and wore out. I started doubting my ability to get through it. But then, I snapped out of it, and consciously adopted a better attitude. This past weekend, I did a lot better, and a huge part of that was my mindset going into it. When you believe you can succeed and you visualize it, success follows more easily. When I began my healthy journey, I was very optimistic about my ability to lose weight and to improve my health. In the back of my mind, I was still skeptical, but in my heart, I believed I could do it. 150 lbs lost later, I still have to set my mind right every now and then. Success isn’t easy even following a huge success. It takes every bit as much work to keep going, to keep making progress, and to keep succeeding.

Never give up; never surrender. Find the good, and concsiously change your attitude. When it gets tough, remind yourself that you’re tougher, and that you’ve tackled harder things and succeeded before. You can do it!

Stop Wishing and Start Doing!

Me sitting on the hood of a HMMWV during Annual Training in 2019.

As a veteran and currently serving in the military, I’m a member of a lot of social media groups for veterans, Marines, and Soldiers. In many of these groups, I see a regularly occurring theme being posted repeatedly: veterans who are unfit and/or overweight wishing they were fit and healthier like they were in the military. The latest post I saw with this theme was, “If you could go back to bootcamp to get back into shape right now, would you do it?” What’s always astounding to me is how many people say, “Yes!” “Sign me up!” “I’d drop everything to do that!” Well, here’s the crazy part that none of these former warriors understand; you don’t need to go to boot camp or basic training to get fit. You just need to stop wishing and start doing.

As an older guy, if I were to go to Marine Corps Boot Camp at my age, it would likely break me. That training program is designed to take men and women between the ages of 17 and 28 and transform them from civilians into Marines; fighting men and women in outstanding physical fitness, able to perform any and all tasks required of them on the battlefield. While I am physically fit and I’m in the 30% of the Army that’s currently able to pass the new Army Combat Fitness Test, I was able to accomplish that because, as an older man, I took an approach to fitness that matched my age; slow progress towards my fitness goals.

There are two basic concepts for getting fit and healthier as an older person: diet and exercise. It’s the same two concepts you’ve heard all your life, except I will break it down to explain it, because the way we’ve been told diet and exercise works might not have been exactly correct.

Diet. This is what you eat. This is not a temporary program you go on to lose weight. This is a lifestyle, and something you need to change long-term (aka forever) to see results that will be long-lasting (aka forever). Your weight and general health are determined by what you eat. There are many ways to eat healthier, and it will depend on your genetic makeup background. For me, Whole30 and The Paleo Diet work. For others, it’s the Keto diet, Intermittent Fasting (IF), counting calories (aka Calories In/Calories Out, or CICO), One Meal a Day (OMAD), and others. These are not restriction diets like the Cabbage Soup Diet. These are diets that allow lots of food types, but some (Paleo, Keto, Whole30) do curtail certain things like refined sugar and excessive carbs.

The Food Pyramid is a myth. We learned it when I was in elementary school, and I remember watching film strips, movies, and presentations by our teachers about “4-4-3-2: that’s the number for me and you!” The idea was 4 servings of grain, 4 servings of vegetables, 3 servings of milk, and 2 servings of meat a day are what you needed for proper nutrition. This was a government-sponsored nutrition plan that had no basis in science or reality. What it did was create generations of obese people and support the government’s grain and milk subsidies with no regard for the actual health of the American people. What’s worse is that 40 years later, when we’ve proven over and over that the Food Pyramid is not based on science or fact, people still cling to the “Balanced diet” myth. The truth is, we need nutrients, and as long as we can get those in the right amounts in the healthiest manner, our bodies will be happy. Grains are not a nutrient. Carbs are not a nutrient. You don’t need to eat grains or drink milk to be healthy. (Honorable mention for nutrition myth: “Milk: it does a body good.”).

Exercise. This is getting off the couch or the sofa and moving. When I started my health and fitness journey, it involved no fitness. Seriously; for the first year (when I lost 130 lbs), I was adamant about doing no exercise. I wanted to prove, not only to myself, but to the world that through diet alone, a person could lose a large amount of weight. I did it, but I was soft. I had lost a lot of weight, but I was still pudgy, so I added exercise.

Starting my push-up program. It wasn’t easy, but it got me started in fitness.

I started very slow at first; push-ups and walking. For the push-ups, I never pushed until failure. I would only do as many push-ups as were comfortable. As soon as my arms started feeling wobbly or weak, I would stop. This kept me from being super-sore after push-ups and helped me to keep doing them day after day. Nobody likes working out on sore muscles, so I avoided that. In the beginning, I was able to do only 3 push-ups before my arms started wobbling. By doing push-ups daily, within three months, I was up to 120 push-ups in two minutes.

The very first 5k distance run I completed since leaving the Marines. I was ecstatic.

After doing as many push-ups as I could (until my arms got wobbly or it got too hard, but not until I couldn’t do any more), I walked for 30 minutes each day. I would walk as quickly as I could, and naturally, my body wanted more. I had gotten to a point where it just felt like I needed to jog, and that slow jogging turned into full-on running three miles in under 26 minutes. How did I make that much progress so quickly?

  1. Rest days. The older you get, the longer it takes for your body to recover after physical exertion. After each run, I take a day off for my body to recover. I began doing the same for the push-ups after I got to 20.
  2. Perseverence. I made sure I ran every other day regardless. Because there are 7 days in a week, that would mean I would run M-W-F-Su one week and Tu-Thu-Sat the next week.
  3. Discipline. I wouldn’t let anything or anyone come between me and my exercise. They took priority over everything, and I scheduled my life around my exercise.

The amount of time it took to do that exercise program? About 30 minutes in total each day. That’s not a lot of time to get fit. Within 6 months, I lost an additional 20 lbs, but my body composition changed dramatically, and I no longer looked pudgy. I looked lean.

After deciding to join the military, I increased my physical activity and pushed for faster runs and more push-ups, and later, after joining the SFAB (Security Force Assistance Brigade), I added weight training. This increased the time spent each day exercising (to almost 2 hours), but I see it as an investment in my health and fitness. Being in the SFAB requires a lot more physical readiness than the average Soldier. Coupled with my leadership responsibilities, I have to push myself harder than I normally would otherwise. However, I’m enjoying the results and the higher level of fitness.

In 2018 in Philadelphia, visiting the Birthplace of the Marine Corps.

What could all those veterans who wish they were more fit do? They could start today by getting outside and walking for 30 minutes and doing as many push-ups as they can, even if it’s 3. Every day thereafter, they need to just get out there and do it again. Once the push-ups get to 20, start doing them every other day. Same with running; once they progress from walking to a good, quick jog, transition to every other day. This will allow the body to rest, recover, and build. Before they know it, they’ll be back in good physical condition.

The key is that to lose weight, you must change your diet. To get fit, you must get exercise. You CANNOT out-exercise a bad diet. If you continue to eat high-carb foods while exercising, you will build a lot of muscle, but you will not lose weight as quickly. Calories in must be less than the calories your body uses (aka Calories out) for weight loss to occur. However, the makeup of your food matters. Apples are far better for you than Snickers bars (and I’m not picking on Snickers bars; they are delicious. Just not healthy).

Stop wishing you had some program to help you lose weight and get fit. I just gave it to you. Now there’s no excuse to keep from starting. Start now. Get on the floor and do some push-ups and stop before you really have to strain. There’s no need to push until failure; just do as many as are comfortable. Then, get out there and walk for 30 minutes. If you can, try to jog. Before you know it, you’ll be doing 100 push-ups and running sub-30 minute 3-mile runs. It’s not hard. It just takes work.

How Do You Do It At Our Age?

Me in my gym, “Average Joe’s.”

I was asked this yesterday by a neighbor and retired Army Master Sergeant who is also 53. He asked me, “How do you do it at our age? How do you keep up your energy, and the motivation to keep doing all that exercise day after day? How do you make the time?”

I told him about the supplements I take. These are supplements that work for me, and for my personal situation. I told him what each supplement was, and what I took it for, and how it helps me. Here’s the list (these are affiliate links to Amazon; you can always search on these products yourself, but any click on the links below doesn’t cost you any more but helps me maintain this site):

  • Cissus Extract. This helps with my ligaments and tendons. I used to get a lot of pain in my knees and elbows before I started taking Cissus Extract. I notice a difference when I stop taking this for a few days (which happened on a recent vacation).
  • Alpha Boost Testosterone Booster. This is a testosterone booster, not testosterone. As an older man, testosterone production is lower than it used to be, but the body is still capable of producing it; it just needs a nudge. This supplement gives the body that nudge to produce more. The beauty is that it’s all natural; the supplement, and the testosterone your own body is creating. It also makes it impossible to have too much testosterone; your body will only make as much as it needs and then stop. I notice a difference in my energy levels and my ability to push through workouts (which last around 2 hours for me).
  • Turmeric Curcumin. This helps with inflammation. I don’t think it’s great for pain relief (as some people claim), but it does help with inflammation. I take this daily along with my other supplements to help with any aches and pains that pop up due to inflammation.
  • Trust Your Gut Probiotic. The last supplement I take isn’t so much a performance supplement, but honestly, it’s been a life-changing item for me. It’s a probiotic that has made my life much easier and regular. I highly recommend this one as perhaps one of the most important discoveries I’ve made in the realm of supplements to-date. I take two every morning with breakfast and the rest of the day is regular and easy.

I used to take Creatine, but since I’m in Warrant Officer Candidate School right now and we’re not allowed to use Creatine while at the school, I stopped taking it. I was on Creatine for about four months, and while I did gain muscle mass, I also was having more water retention which has gone away now. I feel leaner and whatever benefit I got from Creatine in the past is not necessary right now as I move my weightlifting to a more maintenance mode while I finish WOCS. I don’t need or want any injuries due to lifting while I’m in a school that requires physical activity as a part of my grades and a condition of my graduation.

With those supplements, I feel I’m able to undertake my physical training with as little pain as possible, and my recovery is much better. As for my physical fitness program, it is as follows:

  • StrongLifts 5×5 (Monday-Wednesday-Friday). I have been following this program for over a year and a half and I’ve made significant progress. I have recently hit some limits, though, and I’m moving into more of a maintenance mode after de-loading some of my exercises (reducing the max weights).
  • Pull-Ups/Leg Tucks (Monday-Wednesday-Friday). I start each exercise session in my gym with pull-ups or leg tucks. I went from not being able to do any without a helper band to now doing 5 (almost 6). My goal is to be able to do 20 dead-lift pull-ups which will get me to over 20 leg tucks.
  • Run (Monday-Wednesday-Friday). I run a minimum of 2 miles and up to 3 miles. I mostly don’t run further for a few reasons. First, I get very bored while running. I know some people love it, and there are times when a run is enjoyable and those are the days I’ll add a mile to my run, but most times, I’m bored to death and just want to be done with it. Second, although our road marches (with rucksacks) are up to 6.2 miles, our runs are typically in the 2-4 mile range. By running three times a week after weightlifting, I’m properly prepared for any runs the military throws at me.

I only do M-W-F workouts because as an older person, our bodies take more time to recover after a workout. I also learned something from a Chief Warrant Officer at Warrant Officer Candidate School that has really helped me: a banana. I cut a banana in half and eat half of it before my workout, and then I eat the other half after my workout. This helps keep my energy levels up during my workout, and afterwards, helps my body build muscle by feeding it afterward. I’ve noticed reduced muscle soreness and increased recovery as well as increased energy during my workouts. This has been a huge game changer and I wish I’d learned this sooner.

The overall time it takes for me to do my fitness program is around 2 hours (maximum). I’ve been able to finish everything with an hour and a half, but honestly, I take my time between sets (necessary when you’re lifting near your max weights to allow the mitochondria in your cells to regain 80% of their energy levels).

I know what a lot of people are thinking at this point: it’s hard to carve out two hours in a single day for exercise, and if you see it that way, you’re right. The way I have framed it is that the exercise is more important than anything else. I schedule things AROUND my exercise if I can. Without exercise, my health and fitness levels decline, which in turn affects every other aspect of my life. To be at my best, I have to take care of myself first. To be the best husband, father, Soldier, employee, etc, I need to make sure my body and mind are in the best shape possible. I can only make that happen with a good diet and exercise.

Now that it’s getting colder out, I run with this vest my sister Julie got me. It’s amazing!

I read an article once where a CEO talked about putting exercise blocks into his schedule and not allowing anyone to bump his exercise appointments. He stated that he even declined business meetings with potential clients in favor of keeping his exercise appointments and said that he hasn’t lost a single business opportunity due to recommending a different time/date for a meeting. That really struck a chord with me. He said he was mentally sharper, and because his health is good, he’s able to work longer hours if necessary and recover more easily when pushed physically. He said he’s a better CEO because he is fit and healthy. He also said something that really made a lot of sense: you have to make your fitness and health a priority, because nobody else will make it their priority. I took on this mindset over a year ago, and it’s made a huge difference in my ability to keep exercising and to improve my fitness consistently and regularly.

Make exercise your priority. Nobody else will do it for you. It’s something you have to hold sacred and not waver on. Make your exercise times off-limits to all but the most urgent appointments and you will find it easier to build the good habit of regular exercise. If you’re older like me, supplements go a long way to making your body better able to withstand the rigors of exercise.

Preparation and Luck

What are some things that separate someone who reaches a goal and someone who tries and fails? Three things.

  1. Preparation
  2. Preparation
  3. Preparation

Some people think it’s motivation, perseverence, luck, or some other thing. Ultimately, no matter how you slice it, preparation is what set you up for success, regardles of what it is you’re aiming to accomplish.

In the military, we say that you make your luck. Case in point: a Soldier gets shot and the bullet impacts his chest, but his body armor stopped the round from entering his body and wounding him. Some would say he’s a lucky guy, but it’s got nothing to do with luck and everything to do with preparation. He put that plate into his plate carrier before heading out on the patrol because it would improve his chances of survival if he were hit. He exercises five days a week or more to make his body resilient and tough, able to withstand the impact of the round (because while a plate will stop a round from entering your body, it does not stop the force with which you’re hit which can also wound a Soldier). He inspects his equipment before every patrol to make sure it’s in good, working order. He practices discipline to keep low, to be quiet, to listen to orders from his NCO’s. Making your luck is doing all the work up-front to give you the greatest chance to succeed.

I’ve been told countless times, “You’re so lucky that Paleo worked for you.” Those people go on to tell me that they tried it and found it didn’t work for them so they gave up. While I will admit that not every diet is for everyone, giving up will never solve the problem. Preparation means setting yourself up for success. If Paleo isn’t working, then set yourself up for success by doing the research to find a diet that will work better for you and then preparing yourself, your kitchen, and your meal plans in a way that will help you on your healthy journey.

Before my wife and I did our first Whole30, I researched diets for three months. Once we decided on Whole30 and Paleo, we made a plan for getting rid of non-compliant foods, we picked a start date, and we then filled our pantry and refrigerator with Whole30 compliant foods. We prepared ourselves mentally for the lifestyle change and we embraced it fully. When we started our Whole30, we had the best chance possible for success. In the end, the results speak for themselves; I lost 20 lbs that first month, and Sherry lost 10 lbs. A year later, I lost an additional 110 lbs and Sherry lost an additional 55 lbs. Five years later, we’ve kept the weight off, stayed healthy, and we’re now physically fit as well.

You wouldn’t leave on a cross-country roadtrip without filling up the gas tank, a map or GPS, and some sort of plan. Well, you can, but you won’t get far. If you’re looking to undertake a new healthy lifestyle or fitness plan, do proper planning and give yourself the best chance to succeed. Without a plan, and without preparation, your chances of success are greatly limited.

Effective Goals (or how to succeed in improving your health/fitness)

Five years after my first Whole30, I’m still fit and healthy. There is no turning back.

Too many people undertake a new diet or exercise plan (or both!) only to fail within three months. Worse, most people who fail end up right back to where they started +3-5 lbs. How is it that people who have high school diplomas, college degrees, have served in the military (and got past boot camp, OCS, and MOS schools), or people who achieved certifications, completed apprenticeships, or reached other lofty goals can’t lose weight or get fit? These people surely know how to persevere, how to set goals, and how to do the work required to reach them. Or do they?

Improving your health and fitness, and in turn losing weight, is not the same as finishing a degree or passing a certification exam. In both of those examples, there’s an end; a very tangible and hard stop where the accomplishment has been reached and the work toward it can stop. The problem most people have is that they look at weight loss, health, and fitness as the same thing: a goal to reach. They couldn’t be more wrong.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’d recognize that I refer to my health and fitness journey a lot. I also refer to my Paleo lifestyle. Two words are key here: journey and lifestyle. I will break them down individually because they are very important.

Journey is defined as “something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another.” In our case, the place we want to get is good health and better fitness. How is that a place? Is it a destination we can reach? Therein lies the problem, because the place we want to get to (good health and fitness) as amorphous and nebulous. It’s not a firm time or place. It’s not a singular achievement. It’s an idea, or a state of being, that is relative and subjective. Therefore, it’s a place we can never truly get to, yet the work to get there is what keeps us healthy and fit.

Lifestyle is defined as “the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture,” and “associated with, reflecting, or promoting an enhanced or more desirable lifestyle.” The lifestyle I lived before adopting the Paleo lifestyle was one filled with a lot of carbs and a lack of exercise. That lifestyle led me to being Type 2 diabetic with nerve damage, circulation issues in my lower extremities, and fatty liver disease. If I didn’t change my lifestyle, my health would continue to deteriourate and I would eventually die well before my 60’s. I investigated different healthy lifestyles and settled on Paleo based on my genetic heritage and my body’s reaction to carbs (swelling and rapid weight gain). To give myself the best chance to succeed on my journey, I needed to completely change my lifestyle and adopt a healthier, more desirable one. For some people, that’s Keto, Intermittent Fasting (IF), or counting calories (aka Calories In/Calories Out, or CICO) among others. For me, it was Whole30 and the Paleo Diet.

For me to succeed in the journey, I had to make a lifestyle change. I had to reframe the goal in my mind as not a stopping point, but an ideal to strive toward. This, for me, was the key to my success. I’ve said it many times over the years that it’s mostly a mental game. While receiving support from my wife has been one of the most important factors to my being able to get healthy and fit, none of that support would have mattered if I didn’t change the way I looked at what we were looking to accomplish.

My wife and I had tried many times in the past to improve our health, get fit, and lose weight. None of the plans we did in the past worked for us, not because they were ineffective (we did lose weight every time), but the way we thought of the process was wrong. When we’d either get close to a goal or reach it, we would fall back into old habits thinking that all was good. All was, in fact, not good, and we’d find ourselves in a worse position than we started in. We repeated this process of failure many times before coming across the mindhack of being in this new lifestyle for the rest of our lives.

Temporary change will yield temporary results. Going back to the old habits will bring back the old results. To achieve permanent, life-long results, you must make life-long changes and commit to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional pizza, cake, or ice cream every now and then. It just means you have to have them on very rare occasions and find new foods to fuel your body on a daily basis. Fortunately, the Paleo Diet isn’t nearly as restrictive as some people make it out to be, and Sherry and I have found ourselves very comfortable with our Paleo foods. In fact, some are so good that I prefer them now over their non-Paleo alternatives!

Improving your health and fitness is all a mind game, but it’s not all perseverence, motivation, and struggle. A bigger part is that you have to make sure you set your goals appropriately; in this case, seeing the destination as an ideal and not a specific weight, speed of run, or amount of weights you can lift. The goal should be continuous improvement, or once you reach a comfortable health and fitness state, the goal should be maintenance. Maintenance requires continuous work as well, but it also demands avoiding the old habits and lifestyle. The old habits and old lifestyle will bring the old results, and why give back all that work? In the end, that’s one of my motivating factors. I hate doing work without reward, and I dislike work even more if it’s for nothing. If I lost 150 lbs and then gained it all back, that would mean all the work I did to lose the weight was for nothing. That’s untenable to me, so it helps keep me motivated on this healthy journey.

Temporary change will yield temporary results. Going back to the old habits will bring back the old results. To achieve permanent life-long results, you must make permanent life-long changes and commit to them.

E.J. Hunyadi

Good News: Not a Strain!

A photo taken after a 6.2 mile road march during my assessment and selection to the SFAB.

So, that strained Rhomboid muscle I thought I had? Turns out, it’s most likely not a strain! It’s only been two days, and the pain is nearly all gone and I have full range of motion in my shoulder, arm, and neck. When I said it felt more like a crick, it’s because it was/is likely a spasm. I can still feel the spot where it was hurting after my workout and a bit yesterday, but for the most part, it’s almost all gone. I’m still going to skip today’s weightlifting session, but I will run. I am an advocate for being cautious and not pushing on with pain, especially if it’s injury-related. Since the spasm was caused by over-exertion, it’s something that could turn into something worse easily if I keep pushing. Therefore, today is a non-weightlifting day.

When I run, I almost always have some sort of pain in the beginning third of the run. Most times, it’s right at the beginning, but most of the time, it happens within the first half-mile or so; some phantom pain in a knee, an ankle, or some other joint. I know it’s a phantom pain because as soon as I change my pace (by running faster/harder) or if I keep going on it for about 20-30 seconds, it goes away. Also, it’s typically not a flaming/shooting pain. Those are very easy to interpret as an injury, and when I feel something like that, I stop immediately. That’s why this shoulder/back issue was so perplexing. When I “Hurt” it, it wasn’t a shooting pain like when I hurt my back a few months ago. It was a dull ache that just became more pronounced over the course of the evening.

After taking any long break (more than a few days) from running, I usually get some muscle soreness after getting back on the road. It’s completely normal and expected, and something I’ve learned to live with whenever I have to take a break from running due to work, vacation, and (gasp!) drill/annual training. Right now, since I run every other day without exception, I have literally ZERO pain after running. To the contrary, I actually feel better after a run now, and I like that. The runs themselves aren’t exceptional. I mostly don’t really enjoy my runs that much, although I’m learning to try to enjoy them. At least I don’t hate them anymore.

With my weightlifting, since I’m doing StrongLifts 5×5 which has the weight amounts increase with every workout, I do have a certain amount of muscle soreness after every workout. I’ve come to get accustomed to that, as well. However, I also have to remain vigilant to not talking myself out of recognizing legitimate injury. I’ve been known to ignore pain and push into full-blown injury, and right now with me attending WOCS, I can’t afford to not be able to participate in physical training. So, I’m being extra cautious, and it’s actually teaching me a lot about listening to my body.

A little over a month ago, I had sustained a slight groin injury. I was mortified. Two weeks before I was set to take my second Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), I thought I had sidelined myself due to training too hard. I let it rest for a week and eased my way back into weightlifting and running. It turned out to be the right about of time and I had no problems during the ACFT or afterwards. I’m doing the same with this spasm; giving it some time to heal/rest, and then when I get back to it, I will take it easy and ease back into things.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have any ACFT’s coming up for the next six months or so (we’re still unsure if we will have to take another one in April), but I do have some gruelling road marches (aka ruck marches) coming up; a 2-mile, 4-mile, and 6-mile in December, January, and February. Those will require carrying a rucksack with a minimum of 48 lbs overall weight at a pace exceeding 17 minutes per mile. That pace doesn’t sound very fast when you’re walking or even hiking with a light pack, but that 48 lbs rucksack PLUS the water really adds a level of difficulty you can’t imagine until you try it. One thing is certain, however; you can’t do it with a hurt shoulder/back.

So, I am ecstatic that it seems like it’s not actually injured. I will give it some time to rest some more, and on Friday, I’ll ease back into my weightlifting. The weekend after this upcoming weekend is my next WOCS drill, and I will do my 2-mile road march then. I’m expecting it to go well; I practiced a 2-mile ruck last Monday with 63 lbs, and I did it in around 29:30, well ahead of the 34 minutes we need to beat.

Listen to your body and rest it when it needs it. And remember: weight loss happens in the kitchen while increased fitness happens in the gym and on the road.

Knowing When To Stop

Good ol’ Dirty Harry with some sage words.

Yesterday afternoon, I went into my gym knowing it was going to be a tough workout. I was reaching close to my failure point on some lifts, and I knew that I was likely going to reach failure in that workout. That made me push harder, because I hate failing at anything. I started the workout, as usual, with Squats. I felt good, and did well, so I was confident about getting past what I knew was going to be a tough set. I also wasn’t going to accept defeat. What that led to was me pushing past a limit I shouldn’t have pushed past on the very last lift of the very last set of 5 Overhead Presses. On that lift, I felt a tinge of pain in my left shoulder blade. It wasn’t a sharp pain; it was more a soreness than a pain, but I felt it and knew I’d hurt myself.

My workout on Monday.

After the Overhead Press, I still had Deadlifts to do, and I got through those without any issues at all (although, in looking at my post-lifting videos, I could tell I was distracted by the shoulder and didn’t have my back arched properly during my deadlifts; I dodged another injury bullet there!). I then went out for a two-mile run which went very well and was actually quite enjoyable.

Then, after my shower and some rest, the pain kicked in. Still, not a sharp pain, but the kind of pain you get when you have a crick in your neck. Only mine is in the Rhomboid region on my left shoulder. So, I took some Ibuprofin and massaged it with a hard pillow as I watched some TV with Sherry.

I was able to get through the night without difficulty, and when I awoke, while my shoulder was sore, I wasn’t stiff. I ate breakfast, took some more Ibuprofin, and now I feel pretty okay as long as I don’t make sudden movements with my neck. That leads me to believe that I have a level 1 strain of the Rhomboid which means I have to take it easy on that shoulder for a week, at least. I will still do my other exercises and runs, but at the end of this week, I will skip the overhead press and repeat my Wednesday workout.

I am also de-loading on Overhead Press and Barbell Row. Those two exercises have me at or near my limits, and I learned a valuable lesson in weightlifting yesterday; when you feel like you’re at your limit, STOP. I’m going to reduce my weights on those two exercises by 15% and start again. I’m still able to get through the Squats, Bench Presses, and Deadlifts just fine for now. I’m getting close to a limit on the three, but I figure I can go another week or two before I reach that limit and de-load.

Lesson learned the hard way (is there any other way?). Now I know to listen to my body more, and to not push past any signs or messages I’m receiving. As I get older, I have to remember to not push as hard as I used to be able to. Not only do I break easier, but it takes longer to heal. In this case, don’t be like me; stop when it gets too hard.

Post-Thanksgiving Health and Fitness: Back At It

So, we did it. We got through Thanksgving. But we didn’t get through it unscathed. Like most Americans, I ate a lot more than I wanted to, and although it was 100% Paleo, too many calories means some fat storage took place. This weekend I ate all the things and snacked a lot on the Paleo cookies and other goodies we had (salmon dip with Paleo crackers were amazing!).

It’s easy to beat yourself up about decisions made over the holidays. Don’t do it. At this point, it is what it is, and you can’t change any of it. What you can change is today and tomorrow. So, that’s what I’m doing. Where I am today is a direct result of the decisions I’ve made before today, and I have to accept them to move forward. I’ve made peace with all the eating I did, and you know what? I decided that it was worth it because I enjoyed it and the company of my family. It was a great time, and it was what I needed emotionally. I wouldn’t change a thing. But now, what I need both emotionally and physically is to get back to where I’ve been, at least in terms of eating.

I started off the day with a salmon and egg breakfast made by Sherry. Lunch was her meal-prepped chili, and dinner will likely be meal-prepped gumbo. I’m sticking firmly to the portion sizes and no snacking in between meals. The appetite will be a little crazy for the next few days due to the increased carb count I had this weekend, but I know how to get through the cravings and get back on track.

Even though I lifted weights and ran on Saturday (which made it three workouts last week), it wasn’t (and couldn’t be) enough to counteract the extra calories I took in. Like I always say: you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. So, today, it’s back to the normal grind: I will do my weightlifting and run today. I am looking forward to it, not because it’s going to help me lose weight, but because I have really been feeling like I’m finally fit, and I like how it feels. I like getting into the gym and then onto the road for a run not because I particularly enjoy working out, but because I like how I feel in-between the workouts: strong, capable, and fit.

I know getting back to it after a few days off is tough. But, with each day off, it gets harder to get back to it. I won’t make that mistake again; I’m getting right back to it today and I’m not looking back!